Representatives of Te Rarawa will travel to Auckland on Sunday to welcome New Zealand's oldest carving home, after being on display in London and Paris museums.
The Tangonge (or Pukepoto) lintel, carved from tōtara some time between the 14th and 16th centuries, will be welcomed with a pōwhiri when it arrives back at its permanent home at Auckland Museum.
Discovered in 1920 when Lake Tangonge, between Kaitaia and Ahipara, was drained, is usually displayed at the Auckland War Memorial Museum's He Taonga Māori gallery, but in 2012 it was taken to Pukepoto Marae before going on display at Te Ahu for a year. Auckland War Memorial Museum director Roy Clare described it at the time as an important link in New Zealand history because of its difference in form and style to the carving that followed.
"Historically and culturally it is hugely significant, which is why it holds such an important place in our museum," he said.
"It also holds massive significance for the people of Te Rarawa, Te Tai Tokerau and the Far North ... The return of the carving is recognition of the bond this taonga forges between the museum as its custodian, the people of Te Rarawa, its spiritual guardians, and Te Ahu."
Te Rarawa chairman Haami Piripi said the last time the taonga was lent to Te Rarawa, for one week, it had had a striking effect on the iwi's spirit and morale. The one-year loan would make a major contribution to empowering iwi, an essential element for the community development of whānau and hapū.
Then Far North Regional Museum chairman Phil Cross agreed the loan was hugely significant for Te Ahu and the district, and backed Mr Piripi's claim about last time it was in the North.
"It was an incredibly emotive, positive experience, and one that created a real sense of pride," he said. "It is indicative of that ethos that unless you know where you've come from, you don't know where you are going. The Kaitaia carving provides that sense of where things have come from."
The carving showed how Māori art had evolved from Polynesian origins, featuring a central figure with outward-facing manaia motifs at each en. Tangonge was unique, in that both sides were fully carved, suggesting it may have stood over a gateway.