Aotearoa - New Zealand Collection

Carved portrait of Hongi Hika, ETI.570 © Sydney University Museums

Carved portrait of Hongi Hika, possibly c1814. Transferred from the Nicholson Museum 1896 (ETI.570). Photo © Sydney University Museums

The Māori collections from Aotearoa – New Zealand, while small (21 items), are comprised of some historically interesting and culturally significant Taonga (Māori treasures). These include a fine pounamu – greenstone Hei-Tiki, with a pāua shell cross affixed to the back, and wood, whale bone and kāpia – kauri gum Mere (hand weapons).

Kāpia had a variety of traditional uses, but in the period 1870 to 1920 an industry based on the digging of kauri gum in the North Island was an important source of income for many Māori when it became a major New Zealand export used for varnish production in America and Europe.

An important Taonga we hold is a carved wooden head said to represent Hongi Hika. Hongi Hika, a Ngāpuhi chief from the West Coast, North Island, is renowned for his role in the Musket Wars (1807–1842), Māori intertribal conflicts which involved European firearms.

In 1814 Hongi Hika met Samuel Marsden, a Sydney-based English born Anglican missionary who had travelled to New Zealand to evangelise amongst the Māori.

Hongi Hika and other senior Māori journeyed to Sydney and spent time at Marsden’s residence at Parramatta. It is here he is said to have carved a self-portrait in wood. This item is today held by the Auckland Museum, Aotearoa – New Zealand.

More research is required to establish whether the sculpture at the Macleay is another version carved at the same time or an early copy by another hand. Nonetheless it represents an important figure in early Māori–Pākehā (non-Māori) history.

Items of more modern manufacture include dance gear from the late 1940s and Kete – open weave flax baskets of the style used in the collection of shellfish – that date from the 1950s.

The dance gear includes Poi – dance balls made by Guide Rangi (Rangitìaria Dennan) of Arawa and Ngàti Pikiao descent, a well-known leader in the interpretation and promotion of Māori culture especially around Whakarewarewa, Rotorua and a Piupiu – dance skirt acquired by performer Beth Dean when she studied Māori dance with Dovey Katene Horvath of the Ngati Poneke club in Wellington.