Early Thursday morning, 28 September 2017, a group representing Rongowhakaata left Gisborne for Wellington to support the opening of their exhibition being held at Te Papa. At the centre of the exhibition will stand the prized centrepiece, Te Hau Ki Turanga, the breathe and vitality of Turanga. Considered one of the oldest and most significant carved houses in existence, it has been the museum’s pride and joy for some time now. But Te Papa will lose its prized Maori exhibit when the whare is returned to its rightful owners in 2017. This was included in Rongowhakaata’s Treaty of Waitangi negotiations.
Te Hau-ki-T?ranga was built in the early 1842 at ?r?kaiapu p?, near Gisborne. The head carver was Raharuhi Rukup?, and the house was dedicated to his elder brother, Rongowhakaata chief T?mati W?ka M?ngere. It was one of the first whare to be carved using steel tools and is the oldest surviving whare whakairo (carved house) made in this way.
During the Maori Land Wars, Rukupo refused to sell the building to the crown but two years later, it was confiscated by the native minister J.C Richmond who was acting informally as the director of the Colonial Museum. The whare was dismantled and removed and its carvings were taken to Wellington.
Fast forward one hundred years, could we see the whare on the move again back to its rightful place in Gisborne. The logistics of moving and housing the country’s most expensive taonga back to Gisborne is the ongoing debate that Rongowhakaata people are having at the moment. While the whare should have been brought back at the end of this year, the cost of housing the 20-metre-long wharenui and the care of it has been a contentious one. One group contests that the cost will probably bankrupt the Iwi and the call for a feasibility study will need to be considered. Another group thinks it is a golden goose and the opportunity to show case this international art piece in a new regional museum would be the perfect chance to promote this region on the global stage. Rather than tourists taking their money to Wellington, they could bring it to Gisborne.
To bring the whare home or not to bring it home will be a decision Rongowhakaata will have to make. I am a descendant of Rukupo, I am Rongowhakaata and I am in the tourism industry so where do I sit in this. I think it should come home and I think the Government should pay for all the costs associated with bringing it home and housing it. They stole it so they should return it.