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Museum fronts return of taonga

A taonga stolen from Parihaka during colonial raids was removed from display at Aratoi Museum last week and is in the process of being repatriated.

The tahaa [gourd] display was challenged in February after an historical article was published in the Times-Age in January.

Speaking of the decision to repatriate the item, Aratoi director Sarah McClintock said she wanted to work with integrity and ethics.

“I want to make sure we are doing the right thing. They start and end with our iwi. If an object does not belong here, set things right,” McClintock said.

She said the tahaa sat in the Cabinet of Curiosities exhibit, which was a “somewhat provocative title” that brought to mind colonial history.

The object was part of the collection of Masterton Museum, which closed down in the 1950s.

“It struggled to find a permanent home. It spent 70 years on and off display. It moved from place to place,” said McClintock, who has been director for seven months.

The museum’s whole collection – including the tahaa – went to the then-Dominion Museum [now Te Papa Tongarewa] on the understanding it would be returned once Wairarapa had a place to house it.

After Aratoi opened up in 2002, discussions about returning the collection began and it was finally put on display in June 2022.

In February this year, McClintock received an email from former New Plymouth mayor-turned-Treaty activist Andrew Judd, who asked Aratoi to remove the stolen tahaa and speak with Parihaka about returning it. After discussions with Ngati Kahungunu and Rangitane the tahaa was removed from display on May 1. Aratoi is now working with iwi, who will lead the repatriation process.

“We welcome these things, that’s exactly what we wanted from this exhibition – for more information to come forward,” McClintock said.

Masterton archivist and historian Gareth Winter wrote The theft of a Parihaka tahaa, which appeared in the Times-Age.

Winter said he did not write the article with the intention to “bang” anyone on the head.

“It is not a noble piece of history. The tahaa represents something we shouldn’t have done,” said Winter, who noted it is a way to illustrate the colonisation and stolen land that is part of a wider narrative.

“It will still retain that story of being stolen and then returned, so there is a positivity in that story,” Winter said.

Museum records from 1923 show the history room had “a water bottle captured by GSW Dalrymple at Parihaka”.

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