As I write, I am sitting inside the Houngarea meeting house at Pakipaki and we are in the middle of a taonga conservation hui facilitated by Rangi Te Kanawa and her team from Te Papa's National Services.

The rain is appropriate for the occasion and in the light-hearted way of Maori, whether it is raining or sunny, it is a good sign.

It is a good sign for this hui as the whanau have brought their taonga to be assessed by Rangi, and advice is being given on how best to look after these precious heirlooms.

Our ancestors must be pleased.


There are feather cloaks, muka (dressed flax) garments, church banners and I've brought in a cloak which has given me a scarily pleasant surprise - specifically that it dates back to the 1850s!

I'm glad to be here and to learn how to care for it properly; on a coat hanger in the wardrobe is not the best care of taonga, however that is exactly what we innocently do with our cloaks.

As a child, I used to sneak it out of my great-grandfather's wardrobe to play chiefly dress-ups and parade around the lounge to the delight of my great-grandmother and aunts, even then I don't think we had any idea of the significance and age of the cloak.

Significance of taonga is magnified when they are laid out in this setting. It is terror and magnificence displayed modestly beside their proud whanau, all eager to know the technical intricacies of the garments: What is it made of? How was it dyed? What implements were used?

There is a protective garment made of cabbage tree fibre, strong enough to deflect a spearhead in attack.

It is small and would have been worn on the upper torso like a cape when going to war.

My imagination drifted as soon as I heard protective garment.

Aunty Rose Mohi brought a kahu kiwi (kiwi feather cloak) presented in 1935 to her grandfather, Te Kauru Karaitiana, grandson of the Heretaunga chief, Karaitiana Takamoana.

He was given the kahu at Ngaruawahia, where it was presented by Princess Te Puea along with two photographs in carved frames, one of Takamoana and one of King Tawhiao.

The photographs were wrapped in the kahu kiwi, which newspapers reported as coming out of a cave in Waikato.

The kahu kiwi and photographs were gifted to strengthen the ties between Ngati Kahungunu and Waikato.

Te Kauru left the two framed photographs to his two daughters, Elizabeth and Te Huhuti Karaitiana.

The taonga remind us of our genealogies, our special places and our stories.

In conserving these taonga, we conserve the stories associated with their ties to other whanau, hapu and iwi.

The specimens on display are examples of deep intricate skill and Rangi has reminded us that Heretaunga was once a mecca of weaving in its most complex application to manufacture garments - this is indigenous bliss.

So if Heretaunga was once a national centre for excellence in weaving, one must ask the question of whether we still hold the title.

Of course, to be a mecca of weaving people need access to copious amounts of flax in its various forms and I am reminded that only 2 per cent of our natural wetlands exist in Hawke's Bay - we have lost 98 per cent of our wetlands and the natural resources that come from them.

Yet being here today, one cannot help but feel the optimism that our future is bright, our stories are being conserved and as the rain tells us - our ancestors must be pleased.

* Charles Ropitini is Pou Arahi, strategic Maori adviser, at the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) Hawke's Bay