Massey student wins UK scholarship to seek taonga

Tapunga Nepe's scholarship will enable him to go to the UK to identify and study Māori taonga in British institutions (photo by Ali Maynard).

A Massey student has been awarded a He Whai Mātauranga (In Pursuit of Knowledge) Scholarship established by the British High Commission to help reconnect Māori taonga within UK institutions to Aotearoa New Zealand.

The scholarship will enable Museum Studies master’s student, Tapunga Nepe, Rongowhataata, to spend up to six weeks in the UK where he aims to locate, identify, study and honour Rongowhakaata taonga. This includes carvings possibly originating from the country’s oldest whare whakairo (carved house), Te Hau ki Tūranga.  The whare, built under the direction of master carver Raharuhi Rukupō in the early 1840s at Manutuke on the East Coast, was confiscated in 1867 and is currently housed at Te Papa. 

In 2016, Rongowhakaata from the Gisborne region initiated a journey to gather together the iwi taonga in a series of marae-based exhibitions, continuing to the current exhibition at Te Papa National Museum, Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow.

This series of exhibitions will become the platform of Mr Nepe’s master’s thesis and he says the He Whai Mātauranga scholarship provides the opportunity to continue this journey of resurgence, reconnecting with Rongowhakaata taonga held in UK collections. Mr Nepe is currently the Kaitieki Māori at Tairāwhiti Museum in Gisborne.  The scholarship was one of three announced in London recently during the visit of a delegation of New Zealand academics and Māori leaders hosted by the British High Commission.  

Massey’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Māori, Distinguished Professor Hingangaroa Smith, who was on the delegation, praised British High Commissioner Laura Clarke for the initiative which was part of the Tuia 250 Encounters commemorations marking the first meeting between Māori and Europeans in 1769. 

He says it was “an incredible opportunity” to visit taonga held at the Natural History Museum, the British Museum, the British Library, the National Maritime Museum as well as the Museum of Archelogy and Anthropology in Cambridge.  Professor Smith says the opportunity to build stronger relationships between iwi and cultural institutions in the UK will support greater research collaborations. 

“There is such mātauranga (knowledge) to be unlocked from taonga that has been out of our view for so long and the opportunity for one of our students to undertake such mahi (work) is very significant.” 

It is also significant for Massey’s Museum Studies programme in the School of Humanities, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and was the first programme of its kind in the country. 

Museum Studies programme co-ordinator Dr Susan Abasa says He Whai Mātauranga is an exciting joint venture, the first to bring all the museum studies programmes in Aotearoa together.  

“He Whai Mātauranga offers an opportunity to strengthen relationships here and with our museum colleagues in the UK.  In the spirit of sharing knowledge, we also renew our collective responsibility to preserve, maintain and value taonga Māori. Reconnecting taonga with whānau, hapū and iwi is a powerful and beautiful kaupapa.”


Related articles

Ka Mate – a commodity to trade or taonga to treasure?
Museums and universities can learn from each other
Mäori museums inevitable says researcher

Contact us Mon - Fri 8:30am to 4:30pm 0800 MASSEY (+64 6 350 5701) TXT 5222 Web chat Staff Alumni News Māori @ Massey