Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick has made an impassioned plea for the return of a whale bone club, honouring late kaumatua Mauriora Kingi, stolen from the council chamber.
Mrs Chadwick, with Te Tatau o Te Arawa chairman Te Taru White, spoke today of the desire to have the taonga back with the Rotorua Lakes Council as quickly as possible.
The short handled patu paraoa was discovered missing last week when it was not in its display case.
A thorough search was conducted, security footage was checked and anyone who may have removed it for safekeeping was contacted but the patu has not been found.
Rotorua Lakes Council chief executive office manager, Craig Tiriana, said it was the only item missing and there was no visible signs of forced entry to the room or display case.
Mrs Chadwick said both the council and Te Tatau o Te Arawa were disappointed it was missing and have pleaded for its return or information about its whereabouts.
"We are appealing to anyone with information about its whereabouts to contact council or if it's in your possession, please return it," Mrs Chadwick said.
"Its value isn't monetary but it is a symbol of our historic new partnership with Te Arawa and that makes it very valuable to us and to Te Tatau o Te Arawa who gifted it to the council."
Mr White described the patu as a sacred and significant treasure of the people of Te Arawa.
"It has huge spiritual and cultural significance. It was a gift to the council and the wider community as a symbol of partnership, hope and prosperity. This taonga has no worth to whoever has taken it and we plead to their conscience for its return," he said.
The patu was housed in a perspex display case on a plinth in the chamber. Since being gifted to the council it has been used several times during official ceremonies such as pohiri.
The last confirmed sighting of it, via video footage taken of the final council meeting for 2016, was on December 15.
"We cannot be 100 per cent certain when it disappeared from its cabinet, but, we are pleading to anyone who knows where it is to come forward," Mrs Chadwick said.
"It has been difficult having to tell our members, whanau, iwi and the patu's carver that it has disappeared, given its purpose is to hold the life force or spiritual essence of our partnership with council. It also recognised the tireless efforts by the late Mauriora Kingi, who was instrumental in the forming of this union and to whom it's dedicated."
"We are hopeful this taonga will find its way safely back to us," Mr White said.
Police have been informed.
The patu paraoa was originally gifted to the council's Te Tatau o Te Arawa Board in 2015 then re-gifted in honour of Mr Kingi in June last year.
Te Mauri Kingi, son of the late kaumatua, said he was shocked when he heard the news.
"It's odd. I don't know why someone would steal something like that, it would be hard to sell.
"We are just hoping it gets returned, I'm sure everyone will keep an eye out for it, knowing what it is and what it stands for."
Mr Kingi said he understood the patu paraoa was taken at some point during the Christmas and New Year period.
Te Arawa kaumatua Sir Toby Curtis said the theft was "ridiculous".
"People are stupid, that is very silly. There are concerns with this but there would be a number of people who have an idea who did this.
"It needs to be dealt with and everybody will be working to get it reinstated, to have it taken is ridiculous."
The patu paraoa was made by master carver Lewis Gardiner and gifted to the board by Te Arawa hapu Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahiao and Ngati Tamateatutahi-Kawiti.
- Anyone wanting to return the taonga can contact Monty Morrison on (07) 351 8348 confidentially if necessary or call the police.