New year brings new life for historic Māori treasure

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New year brings new life for historic Māori treasure

20 March 2014

The New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) has embarked on a significant project to restore a historical pātaka (storehouse) that was originally built in 1902 for the 1906-07 New Zealand International Exhibition in Hagley Park, Christchurch.

The pātaka has stood in the grounds of Rotowhio Marae at Rotorua’s Te Puia ever since, following the establishment of the model Māori village at the site more than 100 years ago.

The pātaka, which is the property of the landowners, Te Whakarewarewa Joint Trust, usually stands to the right of the main wharenui (meeting house) on Rotowhio Marae, but it was dismantled and removed early in December last year for the complex restoration process to begin.

NZMACI Director Karl Johnstone says this is the second time NZMACI has been involved in the restoration of the pātaka and it is likely that it won’t be the last. The first restoration took place in the mid-eighties.

“Whakairo (carving) has its own natural life. NZMACI will continue to intervene in the natural life of our taonga (treasures) to ensure we maximise the potential lifespan of the pieces. Our students are fortunate to be able to work on historically significant pieces,” says Mr Johnstone.

“This has been a complex restoration project for a number of reasons. The repainting of the pātaka was particularly challenging, with a number of precautions taken to manage potential risks with the removal of old lead paint, along with the task of matching the original red used in 1902 as closely as possible. A better quality paint has now been used, as well as a modern sealant to ensure its longevity.”

Tommy Herbert, a recent graduate from NZMACI’s Te Wānanga Whakairo Rākau (National Carving School), is leading the restoration of this historic taonga.

“We have replaced the single amo (upright supports) on each side of the pātaka with two per side, which resembles how it would have looked at the Christchurch exhibition in the early 1900s,” says Mr Herbert.

“One of the most intricate structures within the pā is the pātaka. Work on the taratara-a-Kai (a pattern representing the jagged teeth of the ancestor Kai) has been challenging and repetitive, but also satisfying.”

Mr Herbert has used a core drill to individually cut more than 100 paua shell disks to fit the different sized “eyes” on the pātaka.

“This experience has helped me to understand the restoration process, which is becoming a big part of work that carvers like myself do to help preserve the Māori art form of whakairo,” says Mr Herbert.

The restoration of the pātaka follows on from other initiatives instigated by the recent 50th anniversary celebrations of Te Puia|NZMACI’s establishment under an Act of Parliament, including the recent replication of an iconic waharoa (entranceway) that was also part of the 1906-07 New Zealand International Exhibition.

Mr Johnstone says the historic taonga are some of the most famous and widely photographed pieces in Aotearoa. They are symbolic of Rotorua tourism and Māori culture – and for some visitors, it is their only encounter with Māori inspired art forms.

“Restoration projects such as these are part of Te Puia|NZMACI’s wider development plan to ensure the continued growth and success of the organisation’s mandated cultural interests and tourism activities.”

Manuhiri (visitors) to Te Puia|NZMACI will be able to view the reinstated pātaka in the next few weeks after a special ceremony to mark the occasion.

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