Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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'Stolen from Its People and Wrenched from Its Roots'? A Study of the Crown's 1867 Acquisition of the Rongowhakaata Meeting House Te Hau ki Turanga

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posted on 2021-11-13, 23:05 authored by Waigth, Kesaia L

Te Hau ki Tūranga is the oldest meeting house in existence. It was built in the early 1840s at Orakaiapu Pā, just south of Gisborne, by Ngāti Kaipoho (a hapū/subtribe of Rongowhakaata) chief Raharuhi Rukupō. In the nineteenth century whare whakairo (carved houses) were significant symbols of chiefly and tribal mana (prestige, control, power). They were 'carved histories', physical embodiments of tribal history and whakapapa (genealogy) representing a link between the living and the dead. In 1867 Native Minister J C Richmond acquired the whare on behalf of the government to augment the collections of the Colonial Museum in Wellington. Over the almost 150 years since the whare arrived in Wellington, the acquisition of Te Hau ki Tūranga has been the subject of three government inquiries and numerous Rongowhakaata requests for its return. It has also been dismantled and re–erected three times and housed in three different museum buildings. At the close of the twentieth century Rongowhakaata submitted a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal for the 'theft' of Te Hau ki Tūranga. Their claim also expressed concerns about the care and management of the whare in the hands of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and its predecessors. This thesis tells the story of Te Hau ki Tūranga from 1867 until the present. It asks: was the whare 'stolen from its people and wrenched from its roots'? as Rongowhakaata claim and places the story of Te Hau ki Tūranga in its historical context. It aims to understand the motives and agendas of the characters involved and reach a conclusion as to what most likely happened in 1867. This thesis also breaks new ground by examining the politics surrounding the whare as a museum exhibit and a Treaty of Waitangi claim. Overall this study provides a valuable insight into the history of Crown–Māori relations. It reveals why deep–seated grievances still exist among Māori today and demonstrates the value of the Treaty settlement process as an opportunity for Māori to tell their stories and gain redress for injustices that occurred in the past, but are still being felt in the present.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

New Zealand Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Stout Research Centre


Belich, James; Hill, Richard