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Significant bronze storehouse destined for UN

23 July 2019

At more than 3.5 metres high and weighing nearly four tonnes, a substantial bronze whatarangi (storehouse) has been temporarily installed at Te Puia as it looks to stand the test of time before it’s gifted to the United Nations.

The kaupapa (initiative), called Māori Tū, is led by the Iwi Chairs Forum and has been developed as a demonstration of support from Aotearoa New Zealand for the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The trial installation provides an important opportunity for iwi Māori and for manuhiri (visitors) to see this unique piece and learn more about its significance and what it represents.

Whatarangi – elevated storehouse

The gift takes the form of a whatarangi, a raised storehouse where the most precious taonga (treasures) of the tribe would traditionally be stored. The bronze whatarangi symbolises safe-keeping, representing the storage and maintenance of tangible and intangible heritage – all aspects that the Declaration sets out to protect.

The work involved the creation of two whatarangi – a wooden carved original, which will remain in New Zealand, as well as the final bronze cast version.

Sir Tumu te Heuheu, chairman of the Iwi Leaders Group which is responsible for the direction of Māori Tū, says one of the key objectives that the gifting of the taonga hopes to achieve, is to deepen understanding and to grow a greater social and political consciousness around the significance of the Declaration to both iwi Māori, and to New Zealand. 

“Furthermore, we hope that the whatarangi will help to nurture the blossoming of a set of values which will help to inform the development of a unique relationship between indigenous peoples and the United Nations into the future.”

“The unveiling of the whatarangi this week is another important step in the process, not just for technical reasons, but also to acknowledge those who have been involved with this kaupapa and to celebrate its completion. 

Sir Tumu te Heuheu says the finer details around the gifting of the whatarangi are being finalised with the United Nations.

Pushing the limits of bronze

Iwi Chairs Forum technical adviser, Karl Johnstone, says Māori Tū has been a significant undertaking for NZMACI.

“The carvers and artists have pushed the limits of the bronze medium to create the work, which captures the finest elements of carving. The process is a meeting of time honoured practices, including the reductive carving process and the reflective casting process.” 

Mr Johnstone says that while many might consider bronze to be contemporary in terms of Māori culture, the skills and techniques have been used for more than 7000 years elsewhere in the world.

Bronze also has a long history in New Zealand, including bronze patu (clubs) which were traded with Māori on Captain James Cook’s second voyage to New Zealand between 1772 and 1775. 

“Māori have always adapted to and adopted new technology and while our materials may change over time, the thought processes that underpin the culture remain the same,” he says. 

The substantial size and weight of the whatarangi, at just under four tonnes, will require considerable testing and engineering, hence its temporary installation at Te Puia.

“We want to ensure that the whatarangi will stand the test of time once it is installed at the United Nations, so we are undertaking extensive testing on site at Te Puia.”

The bronze casting process

As each wooden piece is carved, it is passed to the Foundry for bronze casting. A silicone mould is taken of each carving, with wax poured into the mould and, once set, removed and encased in a ceramic shell.

The wax is melted and removed and the shell is pre-heated, and then the bronze is poured. Once the bronze is set, the ceramic shell is removed, revealing the bronze cast 

Once complete, the whatarangi was constructed from the individual bronze casts.

NZMACI casters have also made use of the unique natural environment in Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, using water from the sulphur-chloride pools to patina the bronze. 

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