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Hawaiians rejoice at return of taonga

Wednesday 16 March 2016 | Published in Regional

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WELLINGTON – Hawaiians have rejoiced at the return of a feather cloak and helmet gifted to English explorer Captain Cook in 1779.

A 50 strong delegation from Hawaii came to New Zealand to collect the traditional treasures.

A Hawaiian Airlines flight from New Zealand transported the cloak and helmet back to the islands where they were welcomed during a brief ceremony in Honolulu last Saturday.

The strikingly colourful ‘ahu‘ula and mahiole were a gift from the Hawaiian chief Kalani‘opu‘u to Captain Cook.

The cloak and helmet have been in Te Papa’s collection since they were gifted to the national museum in 1912, but are about to make the long journey home.

The chief executive of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamana‘opono Crabbe, says it is an emotional moment for his islands.

“In Hawai’i we say ‘te mea nui, he mea nui mea kupaianaha’. It is so tremendous it is indescribable in terms of the emotion.

Te Papa’s kaihautu or Maori leader, Arapata Hakiwai, says the return of the taonga (treasure) is a celebration.

“The significance really is we are returning these treasures in the same season 237 years later, back to Hawai’i. I think, for the Hawaiian people these important treasures have been away from their land for that amount of time. It is a great celebration to reunite them and to return them to their land and to their people.

Dr Crabbe agrees the timing is ideal.

“It’s really remarkable because when Kalani‘opu‘u gave the ‘ahu‘ula and mahiole to Captain Cook, he was doing Makahiki season. The time of Lono and peace and agriculture and feasting and harvesting. Right now we are just closing Makahihi. It’s almost like the spirits and the ancestors are with us. All the stars are aligned. It’s tremendous.

Marques Hanalei Marzan is a curator at the Bishop Museum where the taonga will go on display later this month. He says it will be displayed in the main hall as a source of inspiration.

“This is a moment for reconnections of family members, lineal descendants to connect back to their kupuna. For visitors and other people around the world, as well as across the islands, to come and pay their respects to these sacred treasures.

Marzan says out of all existing Hawaiian featherwork the taonga are the only ones with an unbroken provenance and lineage. He says the return signifies an ongoing strengthening of the link between Maori and the people of Hawai‘i.

“We are all a large ohana. Even though the ocean separates us, we don’t see it as a separation, we see it as a thing that joins us all together. It is definitely making us stronger, making us feel closer to one another because of these connections that we are making today.

Dr Hakiwai says although the taonga have officially been “loaned” to the Bishop Museum for 10 years, there are discussions to extend that or possibly make it permanent.

“That’s the desire and the feeling I think with the discussions we have had with the Bishop museum. I think that is great because we know that Maori taonga i] held in overseas museums as well and we have started at some stage to build the relationship so those treasures can come home as well.

Dr Crabbe from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs agrees.

“They have a number of Taonga Maori there and Bishop Museum will be in discussions. It’s only proper. It’s only very Polynesian to aloha aku, aloha mai. When you give, you receive in compassion. To reciprocate, that is a tradition.

The Taonga leave New Zealand on Sunday, and will be exhibited in the Bishop Museum from March 19. - RNZI