1 Oct 2021

Chief's cloak repatriated from the UK after 130 years

From Afternoons, 1:20 pm on 1 October 2021

A cloak believed to have belonged to the celebrated Māori chief Rewi Maniapoto is back in Aotearoa after 130 years in the UK.

Kaawhia Te Murahi from Ngāti Maniapoto tells Jesse Mulligan about bringing the taonga home and its significance.

Rewi Maniapoto and his cloak

Rewi Maniapoto and his cloak Photo: TeAoMaori News

Chief Rewi Maniapoto - known as 'Manga' to his iwi - was trained in the traditional Māori world and also educated in the early European schooling system, he says.

"He was a protector of the Anglican Church [missionary John Morgan] over 20 years I believe.

"So Rewi was a leader within Ngāti Maniapoto also Raukawa and the Kīngitanga, he served two terms under two kings.

"[He was] a military leader, a strategist, a politician, a strong advocate for the Treaty of Waitangi as far there was a signatory for the treaty ... and [he had] very strong views of the Crown's obligations in the treaty."

The kaitaka aronui was gifted to John Grice and has been with his descendants in the UK since he left to go back in 1891.

It first came to Kaawhia Te Murahi's attention after an outcry on social media a couple of years ago when it went up for auction in the UK.

His cousins asked him if he could intervene to repatriate the cloak, he says.

"I had to do a couple of days of research and find out about it, then made some preliminary phone calls to some people who I thought would be able to give me some guidance.

"It's an amazing piece of Māori craft but more importantly, it actually has a symbolism, a sense of value in terms of the reason why it was gifted by Rewi to John Grice so many years ago.

"It was given as a token and symbol of peace, goodwill, friendship and reconciliation between Māori and Pākehā."

Kaawhia Te Murahi says he pulled a team together to get the taonga home, and they were up against some large institutional investors who wanted to get their hands on it too.

"With the good support of some dear friends and the Anglican Church, we were able to go from the bottom of the list to the top of the list, able to secure an amount of money to satisfy the family and entered into a treaty, secured that and were able to transport it home.

"It's an important thing in that I think it is certainly ingrained with a lot of history, the tapestry and landscape of the times of which it was made, the intention in which it gifted to John Grice.

"The taonga has a lot to offer, it is not just a Māori mat that should be in a cupboard for another 150 or 35 or 50 years.

"I'm hoping we can actually allow this taonga to speak about its journey, about its owner, about the times in which it was made and the intent [it was given with], and the conversation about nation-building, about peace and reconciliation, and building bridges between cultures.

"This is important because if it doesn't have a mission, it just becomes a piece of fabric."

This cloak is different to korowai or kiwi feather cloaks because it's made of muka, woven flax, he says.

"The weaving of this cloak is so intricate and fine, according to the conservator Rangi Te Kanawa.

"It's double what normal cloaks of this nature are, which means it's double the intricacy and it's taken a long time to make. I think Rangi has mentioned something like [it took] five years to make."

There will be discussion with its owners around its future, he says.