Tainui exhibition at Te Papa

On the right hand side of the entrance to the Tainui exhibition at Te Papa is a label that tells some of the story of a pare found in the swamps in Hauraki. Had I not known where a pare might be I would not have raised my eyes above the watery entrance doorway to the pare that sits above it.

And for me that is the story of the exhibition.

The space provided by Te Papa for the changing iwi exhibitions is evocative of a womb. So the long tunnelled first part provides us with the story of the waka and the treasures brought to Aotearoa. The right hand side tells the story of the men while the left is mainly dedicated to the women. It was great to see korowai and the story of the Hetet/Te Kanawa family and Te Aue Davis, another woman I admired who died last year.

I was a bit confused as to why Hoturoa is on the women’s wall but liked the idea of the food/plants and kumara brought here. Clearly I was a tad more interested in the women’s side.

It was hard to see the whakatauaki as they are placed above eye level so that the labels, bright orange and cream, dominate the show. It made the connections between the sayings and the themes a little muddled and made it look like a show that aimed to educate.

It was good to see some old friends, in particular Uenuku who stands alone and semi majestic but looking a little lonely. Above him the “Hurunui-Jones” spiral is directed onto the ceiling and we see it again in the multimedia room (I think. I did not see all of that showing but I enjoyed the little I heard and saw of the story of the matauranga of Tainui waka).

For me the puku of the Tainui exhibition (and yes the metaphor continues) was the Kingitanga area. Maybe it’s because it’s a history that has more written records, maybe it’s because I was privileged (and I mean that) to see the exhibition of the parliament records while I lived in Hamilton so it had some context for me. Maybe it’s because Te Papa is better at dealing with the written word than the metaphysical and oral world.

I didn’t stop to see the newspapers and I found it hard to appreciate the taonga partly because of the displays and partly because of the dominance of the written word. I missed the relationships of the themes a bit but grasped the intent.

I exited via a fallopian tube past images of nga tangata o te waka o Tainui and thought about the people I know and knew and the learning I did while I lived in Hamilton.

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