Mana Taonga Kākahu: Exploring Approaches to Reconnecting Taonga Kākahu to Tangatawhenua
The current mission of museums in Aotearoa New Zealand is to reconnect taonga (treasured artefacts) to their tribal descendants, but in most cases, there is no provenance, and many Māori remain alienated from their cultural heritage. Taonga kākahu (treasured textiles) from the pre-European and contact period retain mātauranga Māori (ancestral knowledge), materialise links to Te Ao Māori (the Māori world), whakapapa (genealogy) and reflect a sustainable relationship with Te Taiao (nature). They are the product of intricate weaving skills in the procurement, preparation, and construction of natural materials, including the dying of harakeke fibre (NZ flax) with paru (iron rich mud). The main research question therefore is: How and why should taonga kākahu in museum collections be reconnected with tangata whenua?
This thesis used a range of interdisciplinary qualitative and quantitative methods, including field work, scientific applications such as colour measurements, technical analysis of cloaks and practical weaving samples. Iron rich mud samples were gathered from different geographical locations spread around the North Island and one in the South Island and processed with several tannins that were each scientifically measured for their hue of black. Experimental archaeology produced new insights and interpretations of three case study taonga kākahu. The research aims to revitalize customary techniques and knowledge of dying and weaving, support conservation and display of Māori textiles, and enhance the mana and understanding of these precious taonga.
The data gathered through this research supports the preservation of the fragile dyed black fibre, contributes to the decolonisation of conservation, advocates for greater community access to collections, and argues for enhanced museum display of cloaks through new interpretation of designs. The research has identified material composition and some unique characteristics in the construction of taonga kākahu which explores ways of reconnecting unprovenanced taonga to tangata whenua.