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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: new zealand (3)

Māori cloak link to rugby history

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
10 January 2012
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Comments (3)

A beautiful cloak woven from flax and kiwi feathers might seem like an unusual piece of sports memorabilia, but in 1889 this is exactly what the museum acquired from the visiting New Zealand Native rugby team. This team toured Australia, New Zealand and the British Isles as a money-making venture at the height of international fascination in the exotic colonies, giving the world their first glimpse of New Zealand's now-renowned rugby talent.

ANU scholar Keren Ruki recently completed a one-month internship in MV's Indigenous Cultures department examining and researching the cloak and other collection objects from New Zealand. The cloak is exquisitely made and in beautiful condition but was largely undocumented. Keren's research means we now know much more about the cloak and its story.

Keren Ruki with the cloak Keren Ruki with the kiwi feather cloak housed for more than a century in Museum Victoria's collection.
Image: Rod Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Keren first visited Museum Victoria several years ago when she was researching Māori cloak construction for her own art practice. Born in New Zealand but raised in Australia, Keren describes feeling somewhere between the two cultures and drawn to the weaving techniques of her ancestors. "I felt a big urge to go home to find out who I was," she says, explaining her trips back to New Zealand to learn how to weave. Some weaving techniques have been lost in time but keen detective work helps to recover them and keep them alive. "Cloaks in collections teach me how things are made. If you've got an object, it's never dead. You can relearn how to make it."

Now embarking upon a master's degree in liberal arts, an 1854 Student Scholarship helped bring her back to Melbourne for a closer look at this cloak in particular. It was woven top to bottom using an off-loom weaving technique that is unique to Māori weavers called whatu. In a laborious process, the maker(s) used mussel shells to extract fibre from the native flax plants, drew the fibre out into string, and wove the string across the warp, locking each kiwi feather in place. It would have been highly prized when it was made and thus chosen to accompany the New Zealand Native team on their tour.

kiwi-feather cloak This kiwi feather cloak was purchased by the museum in June 1889.
Image: Rod Start
Source: Museum Victoria.
 

The 1888-1889 rugby tour was a triumph for the New Zealanders. They won 78 of their 107 games. As Keren puts it, "They took the game back to the masters and flogged them at it. The rugby field was one of those places where we could have a fair go. It was a great equaliser in a sense, even though it was a colonial game." The players wore black shirts with a fern motif, later adopted as the national team colours and still used today. It was also the first time that the haka was performed at the rugby, perhaps even while wearing this cloak.

The tour coincided with the Great Exhibition movement when the world was hungry for objects from faraway places. "Cloaks and the Māori were such a novelty, that's why the team came here – there was a market for them," explains Keren. However the tour was not as lucrative as the captain and organiser Joseph Warbrick had hoped. It was expensive to feed and transport 26 players and there were injuries due to the gruelling schedule of games. Cultural items were sold off to museums as the team returned to New Zealand. This cloak was bought by the (then) National Museum of Victoria on 10 June 1889, the day before the New Zealand Natives slaughtered the Victorian team in a rugby match. Another cloak was purchased by the Australian Museum.

1888-1889 New Zealand Natives football team 1888-1889 New Zealand Natives football team before playing Queensland in July 1889.
Source: In the public doman, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
 

Keren's research is not complete; she's still hoping to uncover the whakapapa or ancestry of the cloak – who made it and where it came from. "It's from the Ngati Kahungunu tribe from the Kaimanawa Ranges in the North Island. There might be other ways to follow the threads of cloak through cloaks in other collections. The maker might be a Warbrick relative."

It's wonderful to hear that she will continue seeking the stories behind the Māori treasures in Australian Museums. "To have a look at my own cultural material is really important and it's very significant to the Māori community in Australia. It's been an amazing journey for me because everyone's opened up their doors."

This year's round of 1854 Student Scholarships is open for applications until 31 March 2012.

Links:

Pacific Island Ethnographic Collection

Mataatua Wharenui

Author
by Patrick Greene
Publish date
29 September 2011
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Comments (1)

Dr J. Patrick Greene is an archaeologist and the CEO of Museum Victoria.

On Saturday I attended a remarkable event in Whakatane, a town on the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand's North Island. I was a guest of the Ngāti Awa people, and the event was the opening of Mātaatua Wharenui (meeting house), a wonderful structure that was originally built in 1875 by the iwi (tribe) despite the devastating effects of colonisation and land confiscations.

Mataatua Wharenui Mātaatua Wharenui back home in Whakatane, New Zealand.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unfortunately, the building was soon lost to the people who built it as it was dismantled to be taken to be displayed in Sydney and then, in 1880, as part of the New Zealand display at the Melbourne International Exhibition. That was my connection with the event, as Museum Victoria is the guardian of the Royal Exhibition Building constructed for the 1880 exhibition. Charlotte Smith (Senior Curator in MV's History and Technology Department) carried out some research at the request of the Ngāti Awa which revealed that only the carved wooden panels were displayed rather than the complete structure.

  walls within Mātaatua Wharenui. The interior walls of Mātaatua Wharenui have intricate woven panels and carvings. They were restored by Ngāti Awa craftspeople.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria
 

After Melbourne, Mātaatua was taken to England where it was displayed, and remained for several decades. It then went to the Otago Museum, and in 1996, under the Treaty of Waitangi, it was returned to the Ngāti Awa. A team of craftspeople — carvers and weavers — have worked for 15 years to restore the building that had become seriously decayed on its travels.

I was present for the pohiri (general welcome), a series of speeches and songs in which the Ngāti Awa welcomed their guests, who, group by group, responded. As well as other iwi, there were delegations from Hawaii and the Cook Islands. It was a great privilege to part of the ceremony and to witness the oratory that is a treasured part of Maori (and Polynesian) culture, a world away from the sound bites that constitute so much current discourse. The restoration of the building is a triumph: it has been beautifully carried out and the building will stand as a testament to survival of a people and their culture.

Mātaatua: The House That Came Home is a short film that tells the story of the meeting house, courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa.

Farewell to Phar Lap's skeleton

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
25 January 2011
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The Melbourne Gallery was filled with beautiful harmonies this morning as a group of Maori performers sang and danced to farewell Phar Lap's skeleton, which will return to New Zealand next week.

Maori performance group Te Waka Raukura Maori performance group Te Waka Raukura sing and dance in front of the Phar Lap Reunion display.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Performers from Te Waka Raukura. Performers from Te Waka Raukura.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A performer from Te Waka Raukura. A performer from Te Waka Raukura.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On loan from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the skeleton has been on display next to Phar Lap's hide since September 2010 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Melbourne Cup.

Today's performers, Te Waka Raukura, provided a wonderful send-off for the skeleton. It has been an honour for us to have the skeleton and send thanks to all who made this reunion possible. The Phar Lap Reunion display can be seen until Sunday 30 January.

Maori performance Media and museum visitors gathered to enjoy the music and dancing.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

MV News: Phar Lap reunion

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

MV Blog: The crates have arrived!

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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