A 160-year-old kahu kiwi cloak repatriated from Australia has been privately sold for $72,895 at auction, despite some interests trying to get it into public hands.
The cloak, a taonga of immense cultural significance, exceeded the guide price of $30,000 to $50,000 at Webb’s auction house on Thursday night.
It garnered nearly 40 bids.
Auckland War Memorial Museum pou ārahi curator Māori Dr Kahutoi Te Kanawa had expressed deep concerns about the sale before the auction started.
In her view the cloak should have been gifted to a museum, rather than put up for auction.
Te Kanawa revealed Auckland Museum had offered to accept the cloak as a gift, or buy it from the Australian owner who inherited it.
In Sydney for 160 years
The cloak, believed to have been meticulously crafted by a wahine in the mid-1800s, had been in the possession of a Sydney family for more than 160 years.
However, after several months of collaboration with Webb’s auction house, they worked to repatriate it to Aotearoa.
In a press release, the seller, who wished to remain anonymous, articulated what they saw as the ‘significance’ of returning the taonga to its origin.
“It is time and only proper that this taonga whaiaro be returned to its country of origin to take its place in Māori history,” they said.
Nevertheless, Te Kanawa revealed a more complex aspect of the story, saying a family member initially approached the museum seeking an appraisal.
While museum staff were unable to appraise it themselves, they recommended the family member approach Webb’s Art+Object for an appraisal. Realising the importance of caring for the cloak, the museum did make an offer to buy it.
“He came back to us saying he had already signed a contract with Webb’s,” Te Kanawa told Stuff.
“The cultural significance and care for this taonga was more significant to us, as kaitiaki, hence the offer
Te Kanawa comes from a long line of master weavers and emphasised that the cloak’s auction was “a terrible situation to be in” for those who see themselves as kaitiaki or guardians of the culture.
Webb’s director of decorative arts, Ben Erren, clarified that while Auckland Museum had expressed interest, it never made a formal offer. So the decision to take it to auction rested solely with the Australian owners.
The cloak itself is hand-woven using muka fibres from harakeke and Te Kanawa says it showcases intricate craftsmanship in the whatu, or single-pair twinning technique.
The upside she says, is the family registered it under the Protected Objects Act 1975, receiving a “Y registration”, which prohibits its export.
Registered collectors of taonga tūturu (protected objects predating April 1, 1976) and with strong ancestral connections to Te Ao Māori, are the only ones who can trade it.
The successful bidder of the cloak has not been disclosed.