I te Ara Taonga – Te Matatini

nā Paora Tibble, Kaiwhanake ā-Iwi │Iwi Development Adviser

From 20 – 24 February 2019, all roads in the Māori world led to Te Upoko o Te Ika (Wellington), for Te Matatini ki Te Ao. It’s where Kapa Haka from all over New Zealand (and Australia) came to one stage to sing, to dance, to haka, to compete for the prize of being the best. Up on the stage were kākahu Māori, taonga Māori in all their beauty and diversity.

Te Matatini Pōwhiri underway at Waitangi Park next to Te Papa. Photographer Neil Price, Wellington City Council

In my blogs, I’ve written about mana taonga, about connecting taonga to their descendants. When you watch kapa haka, they manifest mana taonga. They wear the clothing of our ancestors, they haka the language of our ancestors, the compositions they perform bring together the past, the present and the future.


On the Tuesday before the festival, one of the kapa haka representing the Far North, Te Hātea, came to Te Papa for a specific reason. They came to be in the presence of Pūmuka’s flag. In amongst that kapa haka were the descendants of Pūmuka, a Northern chief of Te Roroa, of Ngāpuhi had signed both the 1835 Declaration of Independence and the Treaty of Waitangi. In 1845, Pūmuka died at the battle of Kororāreka.

Read more about Pūmuka’s flag on the Te Papa website

We welcomed the kapa haka into the viewing room with the flag on display. Upon seeing the flag, tears were shed. Why? Because this flag manifests their ancestor and all the descendants. It is part of the privilege of working in an institution like Te Papa that we get to engage with people in this way.

One of the haka that Te Hātea performed to their tupuna, Pūmuka, was Kiri Tāngaengae. Two days later, onstage at Te Matatini, Kiri Tāngaengae was performed as their whakaeke (entrance).

Watch Te Hātea perform at Te Matatini on Maori Television On Demand (you’ll need to login to view)

This is the kind of stuff that rocks my world, it’s Māori theatre at its best. The men are wearing swords, which reminds us of the weapon that took the life of Pūmuka at Kororāreka. The descendants of Pūmuka are also known as the Uri o Te Hoari (descendants of the Sword). At the end we see the Union Jack flying. It’s a challenge to Crown to return the both the flag and the Treaty of Waitangi to the North. This is mana taonga!   

Te Papa stall ready for visitors at Te Matatini. Photo (c) Te Papa

Te Papa had a stall for the Te Matatini crowd at the Westpac Stadium. Our stall included the Te Papa store offering but also shared some of our work across Te Papa including current exhibitions, taonga from our collections, and the work of my team, National Services Te Paerangi.

In the lead up to Te Matatini we worked with the Digital Editors at Te Papa to produce some how to care for taonga videos. Big shout out to Daniel Crichton and Rachael Hockridge for developing these!

We shared these videos on iPads at our stall so visitors could come in and see how to care for kete, hei tiki and piupiu.

You can check out all the videos on the Te Papa website – they’re great for anyone who wants an easy step-by-step guide for caring for taonga at home.

Watch the entire How to care for your taonga series on the Te Papa website

My job involves me travelling all over the country to engage, listen to and hopefully help whānau, hapū, iwi and institutions to care for the taonga in their possession. But at hui like Te Matatini, the Māori world all converges on the one place. It’s a great space to connect with people that we’ve worked with in the past and to meet up with people that we can work with in the future.

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