Te Arawa leaders are warning that whoever stole a treasured whalebone patu paraoa could be in serious trouble for breaking Maori protocol - and are urging them to return it for their own safety.

The patu paraoa (club) was made by master carver Lewis Gardiner and gifted to the Rotorua Lakes Council in honour of its new relationship with Te Tatau o Te Arawa board by Te Arawa hapu Tuhourangi-Ngati Wahiao and Ngati Tamateatutahi-Kawiti, and also in honour of the late Mauriora Kingi.

It was found to be missing after the final council meeting of the year on December 15.

Te Tatau o Te Arawa Board chairman Te Taru White said the mauri (essence) of the patu belonged to the partnership between council and Te Arawa.

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"Whoever has taken it now has to contend with the cultural and spiritual association.

"They have taken something that does not belong to them and it will not give them sanctuary from that point of view...it would be in their best interests to return it, as our belief is it could do them serious harm.

"So don't expect good things to happen."

Maori Party co-leader and Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell said the patu came with karakia and rituals to keep people safe.

"When it is taken by somebody else it impacts on that position - it goes without karakia.

"That stays with the person, even if they hand it on to a gift shop or someone else.

"Returning it is in their best interests and for their safety more than anything else.

"Our people believe there are consequences, what those consequences are, are in the eye of the beholder," Mr Flavell said.

Te Arawa kaumatua Sir Toby Curtis agreed, but also wanted Te Arawa to be more active in helping to have the patu returned.

He said he was in talks with the council to set up a hui to address the issue.

"We need to be seen to be supporting the council on this very serious matter.

"The offender who has done this must be reminded this is important and it should be respected."

The council's Kaitiaki Maori director Monty Morrison said he had taken calls about the patu, but none would help in its recovery.

"I urge anyone with information that may lead to its safe return to contact me.

"As a precaution, staff members are continuing to monitor online auction sites such as Trade Me and eBay in case it may appear online.

"We have also made inquiries with some local second hand dealers about the patu," Mr Morrison said.

Anyone wanting to return the taonga can contact Mr Morrison on (07) 351 8348, confidentially if necessary, or call the Rotorua police.