Closing of Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow
September 2017 saw Te Papa open its 8th iwi-in-residence exhibition with a 600 strong pōwhiri. Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow showcased the dramatic stories, histories, treasured taonga and the exceptional artistry of the Gisborne iwi, curated by the iwi itself.
More than 150 Taonga from over 40 lenders comprised the exhibition, with whare whakairo Te Hau ki Tūranga at its heart. Te Hau ki Tūranga was wrongfully confiscated by the Crown in 1867. Colonial institutions have benefitted from its presence for the subsequent 100+ years, so to work with the iwi on its own presentation of their wharenui was a huge privilege for Te Papa.
It was the unique carvings on Te Hau ki Tūranga that inspired the typeface for the exhibition, which Te Papa developed specifically. Master carver Raharuhi Rukupō, along with 18 other carvers built and carved the meeting house in the 1800’s. Te Hau-ki-Tūranga represents a high point of the great carving tradition of Tūranga – and of innovation. Rukupō, alongside 18 carvers, also embraced the potential of metal tools, creating a new and dynamic phase of Māori wood carving.
Rukupō could read and write, and saw how the written word could enrich customary knowledge keeping. He was the first to carve words, based on the Māori Bible typeface, into panels of the wharenui – the first Māori typographer. He also embedded the written word into carvings of ancestors. Te Papa took these carvings and worked with representatives at Rongowhakaata to develop them into a typeface for the exhibition. The full story of this development can be found here.
Throughout their time as iwi-in-residence, Rongowhakaata have provided invaluable insights into their history and customs. Their Kaumātua have guided the museum through one of the most challenging times in its history. But they have also been there in times of celebration. They have welcomed new staff members, opened exhibitions and led the staff in waiata countless times. All the while providing an insight into the unique customs and traditions of this innovative and creative iwi and adding richness to our understanding of the Māori world.
On 3 February 2022, Ko Rongowhakaata: A Story of Light and Shadow closed to the public. Originally planned for 19 February, The decision was made to bring the ceremony forward in the best interests of the hauora of people and of the taonga, as they faced the growing pressures of Omicron. Although organised in haste, the event was beautiful and celebratory, and further cemented both the relationship between Rongowhakaata and mana whenua, who were represented at the closing, and between Rongowhakaata and Te Papa.