Māori : visiting the exhibition

Introductory area

The introductory area sensitises visitors to the Māori world by presenting a major underlying concept of the exhibition.

* Tino rangatiratangais a phrase synonymous today with the Māori struggle for greater control over their own destiny and resources. The core word is ‘rangatira’, or ‘chief’ – someone acknowledged as a leader, holding authority over their tribe and geographical dominion. Tino rangatiratanga embodies the ideas of sovereignty and self-determination – the will of the Māori to regain control over their culture, identity, and resources, and to participate and contribute to global issues, such as environmental protection.

* In the 1835 Declaration of Independence, the Māori clearly asserted their desire to maintain their sovereignty. They reiterated this desire with the subsequent signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) in 1840.

The signing of these documents would, they understood, guarantee the recognition of their authority over their land, forests, fisheries, and so on.

Part 1 - Whakapapa: genealogy and cultural identity

Life mask of Wiremu Te Manewha, iwi (tribes) Ngāti Korokī, Ngāti Raukawa, about 1885, by Gottfried Lindauer (1839–1926) and Sir Walter Buller (1839–1906), New Zealand, plaster, paint. Te Papa © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Through whakapapa, the Māori identity is based on their relationships with others and their surroundings. The concept of whakapapa encompasses bloodlines between peoples, tribal regions, and the natural environment. It speaks of the links between all living and non-living things, as well as those between time, space, and generations.

Three fundamental elements in this section illustrate the relationships that underpin Māori society and culture: waka (canoe), whare tupuna (ancestral house), and tā moko (the art of carving and staining the skin with pigment).

Tauihu (canoe prow), 1500–1800, iwi (tribe): Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti (attributed), Ngāti Toa Rangatira (associated), New Zealand, wood, pāua shell. Te Papa © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

* Theme 1 / Waka, the canoe

The concept of ancestry and of the bond between peoples, is closely linked to that of waka – the canoe used by the Māori's to reach Aotearoa New Zealand. The genealogical significance of these waka has grown over time.

When Māori formally introduce themselves today, they often state the name of the waka that carried their ancestors to Aotearoa New Zealand. The strong history and traditions associated with waka reflect their potency as signs of collective identity.

The importance of the waka in Māori culture is now highlighted by the practice of waka ama (paddling single-outrigger racing canoes), a modern sport that draws on traditional customs and knowledge.

* Theme 2 / Whare tupuna, the ancestral house

In the 19th century, large, carved communal houses built by tribes became common. The communal house represents the ancestor’s body, in which shelter is found. These ancestral representations are as strong and meaningful for Māori today as they were when they were first carved.

A whare tupuna is partially set up in the exhibition. It shows visitors the meaning and function of the key parts of this type of building and the role it continues to play today for tribes.

Historical focus: Bastion Point

Bastion Point (Takaparawhau in Māori) is a prominent piece of land in the port of Auckland. In the 1970s, it was the stage of Māori protests against land appropriation by non-Māori. A large communal house called Arohanui (big love) was a focal point of these protests.

Tā moko panel, 1896–99, made by Tene Waitere (date unknown–1931), New Zealand, wood, pāua shell, paint. Te Papa © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

* Theme 3 / Tā moko, tattooing art

Tā moko (the art of skin carving and pigmentation) consists of carving and dyeing the skin to reflect a person’s whakapapa (ancestry). Traditional moko closely resemble Māori wood carvings. As permanent markers, they affirm cultural identity.

Tā moko is both traditional and contemporary. In the early 20th century, the art had almost completely disappeared, but at the end of the century, it underwent a revival that continues today.

The exhibition presents traditional and contemporary tā moko through both practical and ceremonial objects (tattooing kit, engraved statuette, funnel etc), as well as photographs showing expressions of this ancestral art.

Part 2 - Expressions of mana: integrity, charisma, and leadership

Mana refers to a strength or quality that is spiritual in origin. It dwells within all living things, including animals, and in inanimate objects that inspire prestige and respect. Mana confers authority, power, and prestige on beings and objects. To have mana means to be empowered to achieve goals, to command with authority and to lead a tribe.

There are several types of mana: mana tangata (power of beings), mana whenua (authority over land), and mana atua (power of the link with spiritual forces).

Part 2 of the exhibition presents Māori identity through the display of symbols of mana such as personal adornment, a cloak, moko (tattoos), and weapons. It also explores various artistic expressions of mana: through taonga (personal treasures), language, musical instruments and land.

Toki poutangata (ceremonial adze), 1500–1800, maker unknown, New Zealand, wood, pounamu (Aotearoa New Zealand jade), fibre. Te Papa © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Waka huia, 1800–1850, maker unknown, North Island, New Zealand, wood. Te Papa © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

* Theme 4 / He taonga rakai, personal treasures

The taonga tawhito (ancient treasures) presented here are dated between 600 and 900 years A.D., which represents the earliest period of colonization of New Zealand by people of eastern Polynesia. The treasures comprise, amongst other things, a shark-tooth necklace, a lizard-shaped pendant made of whale bone and pendants cut in stone. Not only were these treasures used as adornments, they were also believed to contain strong spiritual powers.

Whether ancient or recent, taonga have significance and, over time, accumulate a history and tales that are linked to them through oral traditions. This is why the exhibition presents objects that hold meaning for Māori chiefs alongside images of Māori chiefs wearing their personal taonga.

Pūtōrino (bugle flute), date unknown, maker unknown, New Zealand, wood, flax. Te Papa © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

* Theme 5 / Taonga puoro, Māori music and musical instruments

Māori music has its own founding story. From Ranginui (Sky Father) came melody, and from the heartbeat of Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) came rhythm. From their descendants emerged taonga puoro (traditional musical instruments), blending melody with rhythm.

Through music and songs, Māori express all aspects of social, spiritual, and personal life. There are songs for mourning, for love, for celebrating a birth, for insulting an enemy, for fishing, for calling upon history and ancestry etc. Instruments such as flutes, trumpets and drums capture the sounds of nature: birds, insects and wind.

With the renewed interest in taonga puoro, traditional Māori instruments are taking on a new status in the evolution of contemporary music.

* Theme 6 / Te reo Māori, Māori language

Te reo Māori – the Māori language – has its own mana. It carries the values and ethics of its culture and is essential to social well-being and to shaping identity. In the exhibition, a timeline documents key moments in the renewal and protection of the Māori language. After significantly declining in the mid 20th century, the use of te reo Māori was promoted by committed Māori groups, who created structures for teaching the language. The Māori Language Act in 1987 made Māori an official language of New Zealand. Today, te reo Māori is spoken in many social contexts, on the  television, on the radio, on the internet and in popular mainstream songs.

* Theme 7 / Mana wahine

Mana wahine describes the influence and prestige of women. It acknowledges the critical roles that women have held in developing and preserving the Māori culture and also notes their significant contributions in Māori political activism of the 21st century.

* Theme 8 / Mana whenua, authority over land

Historical focus: 1975 Māori Land March

In 1975, many Māori participated in the Māori Land March to protest against the continued loss of Māori land. The first goal was to claim back lands taken from Māori and to prevent further alienation of their land.

Part 3 - Kaitiakitanga: protection, preservation, and care of the natural environment

According to the customary Māori world view, all life is generated by Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) and all things on Earth are interconnected. Māori must therefore guard and take care of the environment, including all land and sea resources, in a sustainable manner for future generations – for the well-being of humans and other species through time.

Matau (fish hook), 1500–1800, maker unknown, New Zealand, bone, fibre. Te Papa © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Theme 9 / Fishing: spiritual beliefs and strong values

Fishing was essential to the survival of the Māori and was also rooted in spiritual beliefs and strong values. The Māori followed kaitiakitanga (the safeguarding of resources) when managing fishing activities in fresh or sea water. Seasonal cycles and the moon calendar guided their activities. Fishing materials were carefully designed and adorned, representing the deep respect that the Māori had for Tangaroa (Sea Divinity).

Foreshore and Seabed Hīkoi (march), Wellington, New Zealand, 2004. Photograph by Michael Hall, Te Papa © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

* Theme 10 / Land: resource management

Mauri refers to the interconnectedness of everything that exists. People are responsible for ensuring that mauri is protected and preserved. Wrongful use of resources directly impacts the mauri, or vital force, of a place and, consequently, all things linked to it.

Historical focus: 2004 foreshore and seabed controversy

In New Zealand, controversy surrounding the seabed and coastal areas of New Zealand broke out when a new law placed ownership of these areas in the hands of the government. Māori tribes united in their protest against this law, which removed their right to test tribal claims of ancestral and historical ownership, in accordance with the Treaty of Waitangi.

The legal conflict arose in 1996. After several developments, the New Zealand Government tabled, on 18 November 2004, the Foreshore and Seabed Act, according to which the land belonged to the Crown. 

Widespread protest followed, bringing together Māori tribes, non-Māori supporters, representatives of the legal community, and countless others. These people walked to protest against the bill, converging on Parliament’s doorstep in the greatest public gathering ever seen in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The exhibition concludes with the video Uncle Tasman: The Trembling Current that Scars the Earth, by artist Natalie Robertson. This work explores the degradation of a waterway in the Bay of Plenty, where the artist was raised, due to the activities of a paper mill.

Contemporary Māori art

Nemesis, 2005, by Reuben Paterson (born 1973), iwi (tribes): Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāi Tūhoe, New Zealand, diamond dust and glitter dust on canvas. On loan from the artist and Gow Langsford Gallery © Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Fiona Pardington, Heitiki
Michael Parekowhai, Chapman’s Homer 2011

Art from many Māori artists appears throughout the exhibition to support the ideas explored. The artworks explore Māori culture (photographs of tiki by Fiona Pardington), Māori iconography (Reuben Paterson), land (Natalie Robertson) and the current struggles of the Māori (Brett Graham).

Reuben Paterson – digital art and mixed media

Reuben Paterson combines Māori motifs with modern techniques, such as digital animation. He is inspired by the pop movement of the 1970s. Reuben’s work was presented at Sydney’s 2010 Photography Biennial.

Fiona Pardington – photography

Like Ruben Paterson, Fiona Pardington joined the New Zealand collective at Sydney’s 2010 Photography Biennial. Fiona is known for her mastery of darkroom work, ranging from hand printing to toning. She uses light to give her photographs of traditional Māori objects a carnal aspect, and to reveal the material, social and religious significance of taonga (Māori cultural treasures).

Brett Graham – sculpture

Brett Graham is a highly acclaimed New Zealand sculptor. He has participated in major international art events, including the Biennial of Sydney in 2006. Brett is known for his ability to interpret complex cultural and historical concepts in strong and monumental sculptures. His work offers a dialogue between Māori and European histories and involves modern aesthetics and materials. His work Foreshore defender explores the Māori controversy on coastal ownership.

The museum garden and hall also present three installations by artist Michael Parekowhai

The work of this New Zealand artist has become a reference point for artistic excellence. Michael’s work has appeared in major international events, such as the Sydney Biennial (2002) and the Asia Pacific Triennial (2006-07).

Pieces in the musée du quai Branly - Chapman’s Homer, A peak in Darien, and Story of a New Zealand river – were all included in the project On first looking into Chapman’s Homer, presented this year at the Venice Biennial. In this work, Michael explores beauty and terror, territory and migration, and the roots of Māori culture.

Also featured

The art of Ngāti Korokī – sculpture; Darryn George – painting; Shane Cotton – painting; Robyn Kahukiwa – painting; Laurence Aberhart – photography; Natalie Robertson – video.