Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Treasured Stone

A stunning new exhibition has opened at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. Entitled “Kura Pounamu: Treasured Stone of New Zealand”, the exhibition features over 200 pounamu taonga (greenstone treasures) from across New Zealand. In addition to works from Te Papa’s own collection, visitors will have a rare opportunity to see luminous pounamu treasures from special private collections including the New Zealand Olympic Team’s mauri stone that travels with them to competitions; and touchstones from the South Island iwi (tribe), Ngai Tahu.
Valued for its beauty, strength and durability, pounamu is found only in the South Island and it has traditionally been used for centuries as a peace-maker, weapon, adornment, tool and treasure. Kura Pounamu showcases traditional and contemporary pieces, including a breathtaking mass display of hei tiki (pendants in human form, as shown above), ear pendants, necklaces, tools for carving (adzes and chisels) and a wall dedicated to a display of mere pounamu (nephrite weapons). Many of these objects have a whakapapa (geneology) and fascinating histories, many of them linked to famous New Zealand historical events and people.
Visitors will also be able to enter an immersion room, where they can touch pounamu boulders on loan to Te Papa by the kaitiaki (guardians) of pounamu, the South Island’s Ngai Tahu iwi. Acclaimed musician Richard Nunns and Dteve Garden has also composed pieces especially for the show, which will be played on pounamu taonga puoro (traditional Maori musical instruments made of pounamu). It’s an interactive area where visitors can hear the stories associated with pounamu; and where they can also record and share their own stories.
Pounamu has always played a powerful role in affirming and building a variety of relationships for Maori. In the past, families exchanged pounamu treasures when people married to symbolise their new connection; and former enemies presented each other with gifts (pounamu mere perhaps) to establish links and lasting peace. In some districts, this peace-making tradition was called te tatau pounamu – a ‘greenstone door.’ This extensive exhibition, which occupies Te Papa’s Level 4, also tells the stories of important events – the story of the ceremonial pounamu used at the signing of the Ngai Tahu (Pounamu) Vesting Act 1997, when the new Labour Government formally handed ownership of pounamu to Ngai Tahu. If you’d like to know more about this exciting exhibition, Te Papa have developed a mini-site –, which provides further information about the exhibition and the taonga in it. All images shown here are the property of and are used courtesy of The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; and should not be downloaded. They are as follows: Top: Hei tiki (pendant in human form), 2008, by Lewis Tamihana Gardiner (b.1972), Te Arawa, Ngati Awa, Whanau-a-Apanui, Ngai Tahu iwi (tribes), pounamu (nephrite), synthetic fibre. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Second from Top: Hei tiki, pounamu, inanga variety, Arahura River, Westland. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Centre: Hei Tiki, pounamu, inanga variety, Arahura River, Westland. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Bottom pair – top image: ‘Tuhiwai’ mere pounamu (nephrite weapon), Ngati Toa and Ngai Tahu (tribes), Otago, pounamu (nephrite) kahurangi variety, Westland. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Bottom image of pair: Hei matau (hook-shaped pendant) pounamu kawakawa variety, Westland. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The exhibition runs untils February 2011.

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