Since 1972, Whanganui woman Kathy Tahau has been responsible for a rare relic of the 1840 signings of the Treaty of Waitangi.

She has a facsimile of a signed copy of the Treaty, with eight of the nine quill pens that were used to sign it. The objects belonged to her great-great-grandfather and have been handed down to trusted family members.

Since 2006 Mrs Tahau has taken the framed objects to special occasions associated with land claims. It started at a meeting when the Whanganui claims process was not going well and something was needed to bring it together.

"I said I think I can help you. So for the first time since Dad died I pulled it out. I just unrolled it, and everybody started to cry when they saw it," she said.


Since then Mrs Tahau has been on the road with land claims groups a lot, taking the framed objects with her. She'll place them on the second bed in a hotel or motel room, and feels safe with her "guardian angels" present.

Her great-great-grandfather Wiremu Kauika was a very educated man. He was a surveyor of Māori land in the 1800s, was photographed by Frank Denton and wrote articles for a Māori newspaper.

He was chosen to accompany the Treaty as it was moved around the country for signings, and he collected eight of the pens that were used to sign it at its nine different locations, and a facsimile of the Treaty itself.

They were handed down to his eldest son, Mrs Tahau's great-uncle, who kept them in a tin box with his important papers. The missing facsimile pieces are where his pipe dropped ash on it.

He passed the facsimile and pens on to Mrs Tahau's father. Before he died in 1972 he told her to go and get them from his house, which was opposite the school at Waitotara.

She stored them in a hot water cupboard, with her grandchildren's clothes. Later her nephew Des Canterbury had a frame made to keep them safe together.

These days she takes it out to special occasions. One was a Te Wananga o Raukawa session at Waipapa Marae, and she's glad she took it there because of the students' reaction.

"You should have seen the way they guarded it, and asked if they could have photos with it."

Mrs Tahau has already decided what should happen to these relics when she dies. They will be in the care of a granddaughter, and she'd like them kept at a family marae.