Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Whatua Mai te Aho: The Role of Museums in the Maintenance of Māori Weaving As a Living Cultural Practice

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posted on 2024-06-04, 02:42 authored by Awhina Tamarapa

Abstract Māori weaving is a taonga tuku iho, a revered cultural practice, that has survived colonisation in Aotearoa New Zealand. Leading practitioners in the twentieth century broke with custom to teach outside their own tribal areas and recuperate the practice while Māori political and cultural leaders were revitalising cultural knowledge and arts. Museums in Aotearoa were involved in some of these initiatives, but failed to support weaving as a living cultural practice, and most collections of Māori weaving remain neglected and disconnected from practitioners, descendant communities and cultural context. This research, therefore, aims to identify key issues that affect Māori weavers as cultural practitioners, in their ability to sustain and teach weaving, and the role of museums as aid or impediment. The problem addressed is the lack of recognition of, and engagement with, weavers as cultural custodians, and the decontextualisation of weaving in museums. This thesis asks: do museums recognise the authority and self-determination of Māori weavers, and act on their potential agency as a decolonising, restorative force for change? This research is situated in Museum and Heritage Studies, draws on Māori and Indigenous studies, and related fields, and focuses on contemporary museum practice. There is a gap in the current literature seen from the perspective of Māori professionals and cultural practitioners. The theoretical framework draws from the work of Kreps, Denzin and Smith. The research design employs a range of methods including interviews, fieldwork, autoethnography, case studies and Kaupapa Māori methodology informed by critical Indigenous pedagogy. It has a practical aim, to explore the potential of Māori weaving as a pedagogy, a form of cultural teaching that can reform museum custodianship. The main findings are that museums are limited in their capability to empower living cultural practices and need a culture change in order to understand their obligations to Māori communities. There is a link between the transformative agency of Indigenous museology and cultural practice as pedagogy that recentres Indigenous knowledge and practice in museums and provides a liberating and socially responsible pathway for meaningful change. Museums must release absolute control to be appropriate custodians of taonga. The conclusion presents a new model of the museum as a whare pora and wānanga, a holistic learning philosophy that enables decolonising practice. This radical approach to cultural reclamation is needed, based on a vision of shared futures, restorative ethics and principles of constitutional transformation.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130499 Heritage not elsewhere classified

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

4 Experimental research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies


McCarthy, Conal; Smith, Huhana