Sacred Maori treasure again heading for auction

By Greg Taipari

Te Arawa master carver Lyonel Grant says the iwi may have missed the chance to bring home a sacred treasure.

An old Maori wharenui (meeting house) and carvings worth about $6 million are again being readied for auction.

However, Mr Grant said it was the second time Te Tiki a Tamamutu wharenui and its 126-year-old carvings had been offered for sale in the past two years. Mr Grant was part of a Te Arawa contingent who tried to buy the taonga (treasure) last time.

"But for various reasons it fell through and we couldn't carry on with our part of it and so it just went into storage mode," Mr Grant said.

"Meanwhile, the receivers came in and dismantled the house and took it away. Now they could very well be trying to auction it.

"But they'll be trying to auction something that is in a thousand pieces and that's laid out in some warehouse somewhere."

Mr Grant said it was "less than a viable option" to buy the meeting house since it had been dismantled.

"When it's in a thousand pieces ... how it was dismantled, would have been the key to how it would be reassembled.

"So if we didn't have anything to do with that, it's going to be harder to create something out of it, when it's just been pulled apart, willy-nilly."

The master carver, who among many projects has helped create and build Waiariki Institute of Technology's wharenui Ihenga at Tangatarua Marae, said he was overseas when the meeting house was dismantled and was frustrated with what had happen to the taonga.

"I'm just rolling my eyes and thinking, 'people just can't get their act together ...' We did try and there was a consensus from our roopu (group) that it should come back to Rotorua."

In 2011, a tender price from Te Arawa of between $8 million and $12 million was accepted but the deal fell through.

The wharenui, carved by Rotorua's master carver Wero Taroi and his apprentice Tene Waitere, was removed from the Taupo Spa Hotel last year.

Last week, the owners listed the rest of the Spa Hotel's land, business and buildings with Bayleys' agent Paul Dixon. However, the wharenui and its carvings will stay in storage until Webb's Auction House confirms an auction date.

Mr Grant said he wasn't ruling out another attempt from the iwi to try and buy the wharenui but it was a lot more work now than when the proposal was first put forward.

"That's why it's about striking while the iron is hot.

"There were people who gave up their time and energy to put that proposal together."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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