1The Auckland Institute and Museum (Auckland War Memorial Museum) began in 1867 based on the collections gathered by John Alexander Smith. See Stuart Park, “John Alexander Smith and the Early History of Auckland Museum, 1852–1867,” Records of the Auckland Museum, 35: 1998 (Auckland: Auckland War Memorial Museum, 1998), 13–43. The Colonial Museum in Wellington (Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa) developed under the direction of Sir James Hector and was based on his geological collections and a smaller one by the New Zealand Society and Walter Buller. See “Our History: Te whakapapa o Te Papa,” Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, accessed June 2018,

2Sir Julius von Haast established Canterbury Museum in 1861 with a small collection of geological specimens gathered while travelling through New Zealand, and then developed through the exchange of duplicate moa bones and bird skins nationally and internationally. See “A Brief History,” Canterbury Museum, accessed June 2018,

3Andrew McClellan, The Art Museum: From Boullée to Bilbao (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 235.

4“The Repatriation of Māori and Moriori Remains,” Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, accessed June 2018,

5“Motunui Panels returned to New Zealand,” Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, accessed June 2018,

6Paul Tapsell, “Ko Tawa. Where are the glass cabinets?,” in Museum as Process: Translating Local and Global Knowledges, ed. Raymond Silverman (London: Routledge, 2015), 265.

7Weekly News, January 28, 1871, 5.

8Southland Times, September 4, 1872, 1.

9Jo Massey, “‘Theatre of Wonders’: The Emergence of the Southland Museum, 1869-1945” PhD diss., Massey University, 2000, 42–43.

10Tapsell, “Ko Tawa,” 267.

11Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture. Museum Meanings Series (London: Routledge, 2000).

12The Tawa Database has since gone offline. To access the accompanying publication, please see

13Tapsell, “Ko Tawa,” 266.

14This visitation is up from 76% in the 2016 survey. Māori visitors were at 7% in 2016 and 9% in 2017. “2017 National Visitor Survey,” Museums Aotearoa,

15Jonathan Mane-Wheoki and Kaitiaki Maori, “From Zero to 360 degrees: Cultural Ownership in a Post-European Age.” Paper presented at the International Council of Museums, Council for Education and Cultural Action Conference, Christchurch, October 2000. Archived from the original on October 4, 2006,

16Tamatea: Art and Conservation in Dusky Sound, December 17 – February 19, 2017, Southland Museum and Art Gallery Niho o te Taniwha.

17In Korowai o Maata, whānau korowai created by student weavers of Maata McManus (Waikato Tainui) at a mānanga at Te Rau Aroha Marae were shown. Korowai o Maata, April 29 – June 18, 2017, Southland Museum and Art Gallery Niho o te Taniwha,

18Pauline Smith, “The Dawn Raids,” interview by Jesse Mulligan, Radio New Zealand, March 7, 2018, audio, 8:24,

19Evan Harding and Andrew Marshall, “Earthquake Risk Forces Shock Closure of Southland Museum and Art Gallery,” Southland Times, April 9, 2018,

He uri au;
he uri tātou

Jessica Aitken

He uri au; he uri tātouJessica Aitken

The walls of the gallery for Kā Uri – Te Whakatuparaka hou o Awarua / Descendants – The New Generation are painted black. Visitors walk into the darkened space and from the perimeter the faces of the descendants stare into the room. Most of the portraits are large-scale paintings on canvas. A wall towards the back shows a series of smaller pencil sketches. The works are highly detailed, photorealistic and tightly cropped. The most recent descendants, the youngest generation of Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe and Waitaha ki Awarua, are the subject matter. These tamariki, carefully selected by elders in consultation with each whānau, embody the unique whakapapa of the region of Murihiku and express the genealogies of immediate descendants from some of the early bi-cultural marriages between Māori and Pākehā. They show a unique and diverse mix of cultures and ethnicities, all tied through whakapapa. At the centre of the gallery is a stylised waka, also painted black, which acts as a metaphorical vessel to carry taonga from the collection of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Te Niho o te Taniwha that relate to the tīpuna o Awarua and their descendants. These pieces act as an anchor for the exhibition, providing direct links to tīpuna and placing the museum in both historic and contemporary terms within the narrative of these whānau.

As visitors walk through the exhibition, a soundscape permeates the space. The journey begins with the artist playing a kōauau set over ambient sounds of the natural Murihiku environment. He then performs a mihi and once complete the sound of birdsong swells and fills the gallery. The cries of native birds, tūī and piwakawaka, and ambient bush sounds begin to give way to the cries of tītī and waves crashing; after spending some time at the water’s edge we leave and retreat to the bush. The final portion of the soundscape is the artist’s daughter welcoming us back and singing her pepeha.

The exhibition, Kā Uri – Te Whakatuparaka hou o Awarua / Descendants – The New Generation by Southland artist Chiaroni (Kai Tahu, Waitaha ki Awarua), was hosted from November 4, 2017 to April 12, 2018 at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Te Niho o te Taniwha. At its core, the exhibition was a celebration and exploration of whakapapa and taonga. Working as a collection technician at this institution, I care for objects collected during its almost 150-year history. As I engage in more conversations and my experiences and networks diversify, I feel an increasing tension in being Pākehā and working within an organisation built on colonial-era values. I find myself at a stage in my life where I am exploring my own sense of identity. It is not an existential crisis, which infers an unravelling or instability, more a controlled unstacking, an examination and a rebuilding of the parts that make up a whole. In this piece, I will attempt to explore the threads of whakapapa, lineage and inheritance that are woven throughout the exhibition, our cultural institutions and ourselves. An understanding and acknowledgement of the histories and the circumstances that shape us is tantamount to being able to negotiate the role of museums for the future.

The very concept of a public museum is a largely European construct, evolving from the private collections of royalty and nobility and the institutional collections of scholars and clerics. As they developed, they were based on the ideals of identifying, naming and categorising newly discovered flora, fauna and cultural materials, following the exploration of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania. In Aotearoa, colonial settlers began their own private collections with an initial focus on natural history and documenting their new environment, with priority given to commercially viable resources: timber, whalebone, flax and kauri. In the 1880s, this moved to an interest in indigenous cultural items in a rush to collect material evidence of what they perceived as a soon-to-be assimilated culture.

Public organisations such as literary, scientific and philosophical societies were transplanted with the goal of establishing reputable scientific institutions in the colonies. The development of colonial science, especially the founding of the New Zealand Institute (now Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi) in 1867, played a role in the formation of many museums. The philosophical and scientific incorporated societies of Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago were all associated with museums. Some of our most prominent museums were built on the collections and work of early geologists and naturalists.1 Exchange was common in these early scientific networks and collections were often developed through a specific lens and the trade of duplicate items with private collectors and institutions throughout the world.2

Taonga and material culture have been acquired by various means: barter, purchase, gift, theft, force and enslavement. These acquisition methods were justified as institutions hid behind high ideals that masked their political, imperial and economic interests in cultural property, as well as their morbid preoccupation with the exotic and macabre. The Enlightenment fantasy of a “universal collection” provided the rationalisation for the despoliation of culture, built on a Eurocentric worldview self-imbued with the right and responsibility to remove cultural property in the name of preservation, scholarship and civilisation.3 The trade in toi moko, kōimi tangata and kōiwi tangata began from 1770 and lasted until the 1970s.4 The 2015 story of the Motunui pataka panels, which were illegally exported shortly after their discovery in 1972 and later sold under falsified documents of provenance to a private collector, shows the continuing legacy of Western collectors exploiting the cultural property of others.5 Such methods of acquisition and collection contributed to the disassociation of information from the objects, especially regarding problematic acquisition means, which were more convenient if they were obscured. Professor Paul Tapsell describes such taonga as being forcefully “isolated from their ancestral trajectories.”6

Kā Uri – Te Whakatuparaka hou o Awarua / Descendants – The New Generation, 2018.
Image courtesy of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, Niho o te Taniwha, L. Hazley, 2018.

The Southland Museum is a descendant and participant in these colonial legacies. Like many early museums, it began as the private collection of an individual. In 1869, Andrew McKenzie, the proprietor of a Scotch Pie shop in Dee Street, Invercargill began collecting, mainly Australasian natural history specimens and “curiosities.” McKenzie opened his museum on September 4, 1872 and charged a one shilling entrance fee. It was described in these early days as “a triumph of taxidermic art.”7 It contained many bird specimens, a large fish collection and a “Great Tiger Seal.”8 Many of the early newspaper reports describe the more sensational and unusual aspects of the collection and it was only later that it began to be recognised as an educational resource as well as entertaining experience.9

In the early 1870s, a library, science and educational facility, known as the Invercargill Athenaeum, was incorporated and eventually formed a museum sub-committee with a view to starting a museum within the Athenaeum. McKenzie sold his collection to the Invercargill Athenaeum and the natural history collection of James Morton, McKenzie’s taxidermist, was also absorbed. In 1876, the Athenaeum building was unveiled, with a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, perched on top.

By 1912, the collection was transferred to the Southland Technical College and remained under the control of the Southland Education Board until it was constituted under the Southland Museum Board in 1939. Despite the hardships of the Great Depression and WWI and WWII, when hundreds of young Southlanders went overseas to fight, the city decided to establish its first publicly funded museum facility. The original building at the entrance to Queens Park was built as Southland’s New Zealand Centennial Memorial and opened in 1942; a symbol of optimism and civic pride, while continuing the narrative of New Zealand as part of the imperial endeavour. There have been several extensions, including an art gallery, which opened in 1960, the Southland Astronomical Society Observatory in 1972, extensions in 1977 and 1984 and, finally, a total redevelopment in 1990, which saw the original buildings encased within a white pyramid, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Visitors can enter Kā Uri via two entranceways, one of which is through the Māori Gallery, a space still dependent on those inherited modes of taxonomy and display. Objects are grouped by type: matau, patu, toki. Mātauranga Māori is not central, nor prevalent, with tenuous connections to people and whakapapa; predominance is given to donors. Throughout the gallery are taonga that travelled with the Te Māori exhibition of 1984, which was instrumental in laying the groundwork for taonga-driven projects. It opened the doors to the possibility of co-production or, at very least, consultation with Māori about how their taonga should be displayed in museums and galleries. It played a large role in subsequent projects and acts as a marker against which to measure and build. Professor Paul Tapsell saw an opportunity to go one step further and answer the tono laid down by past elders throughout Te Māori: “for museums to tour their taonga back in their homelands.”10 Ko Tawa, an exhibition held between June 2005 and April 2008 that travelled across eight exhibition venues, grew out of a Marsden Fund Project research output; the primary research focus was Captain Gilbert Mair’s nineteenth-century collection of 427 taonga. He deposited these taonga in the Auckland Museum in 1890, which became known as the Gilbert Mair (Tawa) Collection. The Tawa research team was tasked with returning the kōrero and whakapapa to the taonga.

The post-museum, as formulated by Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, is a way of re-centring knowledge. It advocates reconceptualising the museum from the producer of knowledge, the authority and depository of culture, to considering the possibilities when viewed as process and experience. The post-museum moves beyond the walls of the institution and out into the communities it serves.11 Such a reconceptualisation challenges Western grand narratives of knowledge, which often act counter to Māori ways of knowing and being. Such a model advocates the recognition of Māori tribal values and source communities as worthy co-producers, if institutions are willing to share exhibitionary power. For Tapsell, Ko Tawa illustrated the role taonga plays in providing a tool by which source community knowledge can be shared and transferred to their mokopuna, especially those growing up away from the marae. It expanded beyond an exhibition: the hundred hours of film, three thousand still images and hours of recorded interviews, songs and prayer became part of the Ko Tawa archive alongside the kōrero, archival research and high-resolution images of each taonga in the Tawa Database.12 It was indigenous-knowledge centred, rather than driven by conventional museum ideologies such as “aesthetic, ethnological or political agenda.”13

While Ko Tawa literally went outside the walls of the museums, Kā Uri positions change from within the institution. Among the rows of objects in the Māori Gallery are several empty spaces. Some taonga have been uplifted. A sign reads: “The taonga in this display has been temporarily removed to be included in the exhibition KĀ URI – Descendants.” The taonga sit at the centre of Kā Uri, with the faces of their descendants reflected on the case surrounding them. Their place in this exhibition is steeped in kōrero and whakapapa. With 79 percent of New Zealand museum goers still New Zealand European/Pākehā, these internal changes of display within regional institutions are important.14

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki advocated for “cultural literacy” through developing bicultural policies and Te Tiriti o Waitangi education with a view to “lessening the gaping disparity between Māori staff who are compulsorily bicultural and Pākehā staff who are not.”15 While many of the permanent displays at the Southland Museum, including the Māori Gallery, have not changed, some of the temporary galleries have held community engaging projects. There are regular Polyfest events, local artist exhibitions, community art with an environmental focus,16 relationships with local wānanga and student work.17 Dawn Raid – Educate to Liberate – Power to the People was built around the recently released book by Pauline (Vaeluaga) Smith regarding a young girl’s experience of the Dawn Raids in Auckland.18 The exhibition was curated by Smith in collaboration with Southland Museum’s predominantly Pākehā staff. Cultural competency is being able to engage with cultural tikanga in the development of projects, but also knowing when to step back and open the floor to others.

The end of the exhibition on April 12, 2018 coincided with the closure of the Southland Museum to the public.19 The building was deemed earthquake prone. It is my hope that any future redevelopment acknowledges the whakapapa of the museum and of its community. That it embraces the many ways of interpreting and making sense of the world around us. By drawing on the contemporary and the historic, to go forward in partnership, with reciprocity and manaakitanga, following that which was laid out in Kā Uri – Te Whakatuparaka hou o Awarua / Descendants – The New Generation.