A wahaika, a traditional Māori hand weapon, which has been displayed on a wall in a Denver home for two decades, could be on its way home.
"Clearly, now is the time to make an effort to rejoin this wahaika to its ancestral home," says Sherri Hunter, who along with her husband Stephen found the taonga in an antique shop in the US.
"My husband and I have tried to recall when we found the wahaika. We know it was after 1997 and before 2001," she said.
"We were living in Denver, Colorado at the time. Every summer we drove to Washington state to visit my parents. One year, en route home, our car failed and for several days we were holed up in the small rural town Twisp, Washington on the east side of the Cascade Mountains. There, with time on our hands, we entered a small, dusty, somewhat junky antique shop.
"My husband and I argue about which of us actually caught sight of it but I believe the wahaika was with other miscellaneous decorative wood-carved objects on a cluttered shelf. I believe it was me who caught sight of it, because I myself have carved wood, and I, of the two of us, have the greater interest in artistic expression of ancient cultures."
Sherri said her husband, an abstract painter and now an art reviewer for a Bellingham Washington arts magazine, would have recognised the unique value of this piece, not only as a work of art, but also because he is a historian by training.
"We did not pay very much at all for it. Though I have no idea where this wahaika has been in the previous 100 years before it found me, I do believe that everyone who kept it gave it similar respect, because it remains in very good condition."
The couple theorised about where the artifact may have come from and having visited New Zealand twice in the 1990s, they started there.
"It dawned on me that the carved motifs were highly reminiscent of Māori artifacts we had seen at the War Memorial Museum in Auckland and possibly at Rotorua. It was an entirely intuitive connection."
In May, 2001 the Hunters sent a photo of the wahaika to former Auckland War Memorial Museum curator of ethnology, the late Dr Roger Neich.
In his reply to them he said: "I have looked at the photos which show that this is a very interesting club of the wahaika type. My opinion is that it was carved by a man of the Te Arawa tribe living about Rotorua, probably in about the 1880s.
"Earlier wahaika usually had plain uncarved blades whereas this fashion of carving all over the blade came in later, beginning about the 1880s. I recognise the work of this individual carver in other clubs and walking sticks, but have not put a name to him.
"This is part of my ongoing research to link known individual carvers with their surviving works to build up a fuller art-history of Māori carving. Apart from my personal research interest, this is a very fine club that any museum would be pleased to hold and display," Dr Neich said.
At present, the Hunters are in contact with Rotorua Museum about the wahaika and hope to be able to return it to the home of its creation.
"I very much look forward to replacing the wahaika in the homeland of its maker, where the family and tribe of its creator can take pride in the skill of this ancestor as an important contribution to their cultural heritage," Sherri said.
Rotorua Museum te whare taonga o Te Arawa collection manager Cat Jehly said: "At this stage the museum has accepted an offer of donation of the wahaika. The taonga is still in the USA and we are in conversation with the donor about acquisition details."