2003 to 2005

From Auckland to the Far North; From Tauranga to Te Kaha; Maketu to Tongariro. Ruatahuna to Mohaka; Napier to Taupo and beyond.

In our search for the korero (stories) behind the taonga, the ancestors, the remembered histories and Gilbert Mair himself - we were welcomed and supported with much aroha, by Ngai Te Rangi, Ngati Rangitihi, Ngati Awa, Whanau O Apanui, Whakatohea, Ngai Tuhoe, Ngati Whare, Ngati Manawa, Ngati Tarawhai, Ngati Pikiao, Tuhourangi, Ngati Te Rorooterangi, Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngati Whatua, Ngapuhi and many more iwi, hapu and individual whanau along the way.

The first two years of Ko Tawa was a journey of rediscovery, which took our team to marae (tribal communities) throughout the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Led by Professor Paora Tapsell – then curator and Tumuaki (Director Maori) at Tamaki Paenga Hira (Auckland Museum) – we ventured on a series of four major hikoi, and a number of smaller trips, to trace the descendants of the taonga which make up the Gilbert Mair Collection. The hikoi provided opportunity to gain an insight into source marae communities understanding of Gilbert Mair, the period in which he lived, the taonga that he collected and what they could remember of their ancestors and the taonga themselves.

It was also a first time opportunity to demonstrate to wider Maori – especially the descendants of taonga – the Auckland Museum’s commitment (up until 2008) to honour and uphold tikanga (Maori tribal values) as still practiced on over 800 of their marae throughout Aotearoa. Most importantly the hikoi/journey was about returning captured knowledge to source: honouring those communities of taonga-origin as equals. We found sever impoverishment in many of the marae communities. In the past they had (un)willingly given so much to the government, the Auckland Museum and by extension the whole nation.

Some of these descendant communities could remember intimate details of their taonga, and provided us with new perspectives on the Gilbert Mair the man and his collection, which have proved invaluable. Other communities could remember only snapshots from this period in our shared history, yet provided us with reference points which enlightened the team, not least four tribal marriages involving Mair of whom descendants are still living today. By sharing what we each knew of the taonga, we reinvigorated a nation’s shared ancestral history – its highs and lows from civil war to impoverishment and death – as originally recorded by Gilbert Mair over 100 years ago.

Throughout the hikoi/journey we captured on film precious korero (orally transmitted historical narratives and song) willingly shared with us by kuia and Kaumatua (elders), most of whom have since passed on. These film & image logs are now an oral, written and visual history archive that is currently protected and cared for in a private collection awaiting such a time when the Auckland Museum is ready to take full responsibility for maintaining it for future generations, in particular the descendants of the taonga.

With the blessing of relevant elders and their communities, elements from these interviews, recording sessions and events were transferred and edited into the Ko Tawa exhibition AV component, including the documentary - Echoes From Our Ancestral Landscapes – and also the CD album Te Whiri. The Ko Tawa publication (Bateman 2006) photographically highlights the places and people visited and provide narratives of the taonga and ancestors behind the exhibition.

For the Ko Tawa team during the hikoi/journey we all felt a burden of responsibility, realising that the Ko Tawa Project could assist in the re-empowering of such communities, especially by reconnecting them to their youth – their future – now living elsewhere in our urbanised world. Ko Tawa represented their taonga, their contribution to our shared nation’s uniquely unfolding future. We felt that producing an internationally recognised exhibition with the source communities as equals, and touring it back to their marae communities, was a fitting way by which to equally bring focus to and honour our nation’s twin streams of cultural identity within the heritage space of museums.

On 10 June 2005 the Ko Tawa Exhibition opened and the Project entered its public phase of knowledge transmission and source community outreach beyond marae. The post-museum era had arrived in Aotearoa.