The gift of a massive bronze Maori storehouse is one step closer to heading to the United Nations.

Artists at Te Puia New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) have spent years working on the 3.5m high piece, that weighs nearly four tonnes. It is destined for the United Nations headquarters in New York, as a gift from Aotearoa New Zealand.

The bronze whatarangi (storehouse) was unveiled today at a ceremony at Te Puia.

The initiative, called Maori Tu, 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.

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The piece has been temporarily installed at Te Puia while extensive engineering tests are undertaken.

Whatarangi were traditionally built by Maori to store their most precious taonga (treasures) with the bronze whatarangi symbolising safe-keeping, representing the storage and maintenance of tangible and intangible heritage.

Chairman of the Iwi Leaders Group, Sir Tumu te Heuheu, said one of the key objectives that the gifting of the taonga hoped to achieve was to deepen understanding and to grow a greater social and political consciousness around the significance of the declaration to both iwi Maori, 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 said.

He said Rotorua kaumatua Mauriora Kingi played a pivotal role in the development of the kaupapa.

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Mr Kingi died suddenly in 2015.

"Mauriora was not only a graduate of NZMACI, he was also a firm advocate of the protection and perpetuation of Maori art, craft and culture - a mandate which the UN Declaration seeks to protect."

He said the finer details around the gifting of the whatarangi were being finalised with the United Nations.

Iwi Chairs Forum technical adviser, Karl Johnstone, said Maori Tu had been a significant undertaking for NZMACI, requiring the creation of two whatarangi - a wooden carved original used to cast the bronze work, as well as the final bronze piece.

"The carvers and artists have really 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 said while many might consider bronze to be contemporary in terms of Maori culture, the skills and techniques had 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 Maori on Captain James Cook's second voyage to New Zealand between 1772 and 1775.

"Maori 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," Mr Johnstone said.

Due to the substantial size and weight of the whatarangi, it 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.

"At the same time, the trial installation provides an important opportunity for iwi Maori and for manuhiri (visitors) to see this unique piece and learn more about its significance and what it represents."

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
- Once set, it is removed and encased in a ceramic shell
- The wax is melted and removed and the shell is preheated, 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
- Water from sulphur-chloride pools is used to patina the bronze