Ngāpuhi working with Webb's to repatriate Hongi Hika's musket

10:48 am on 14 May 2021

A Ngāpuhi leader met with Webb's auction house last night to try and secure the return of a musket purported to belong to chief Hongi Hika, which had been due to go under the hammer on Monday.

The musket purportedly owned by Hongi Hika going up for auction.

The musket purportedly owned by Hongi Hika going up for auction. Photo: Webbs

Webb's withdrew the auction after RNZ revealed concerns about its authenticity and how it was obtained.

The musket, which was gifted to Hika by King George the IV and may even have been present at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, was expected to fetch more than $100,000 at auction.

After an outcry about the sale of such an important cultural item, Ngāpuhi Rūnanga chair Wane Wharerau met with Webb's managers last night in a bid to have the musket returned to the iwi.

He said they are working to repatriate the musket back to the iwi.

"The musket has been withdrawn from the auction lists for Monday. Obviously, that gave us a bit more breathing space to talk about what happens to the item.

"We have not been able to confirm any details in terms with this repatriation, so we'll have to go through there with Webb's. We need to talk to other parties and get a full understanding of where people are thinking."

Wharerau said the iwi wants to build a relationship with Webb's should future items connected to Ngāpuhi be up for auction.

"This isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened, and it won't be the last."

When asked about the authenticity of the musket, Wharerau said he'll be leaving it to the experts.

"There are some gaps in the in the history of the item, so we've acknowledged it and I do understand that there's some other information around, but again, I haven't seen that information in front of me to this date. I know that there's some expert comments that have been made, but I think I'll just leave that to the side for the moment."

Wharerau viewed the item yesterday and said it was special to see in person.

"Obviously, it's important to Ngāpuhi. It's an iconic item. First of all, we've got to prove its authenticity, it's providence, but of course we do have an emotional tie to any item that that belongs and has some historic meaning to Ngāpuhi. It invokes some shift and wanting to a) prove what it is and b) if it is one of ours, to repatriate it."

In a joint statement from both Webb's and Ngāpuhi Iwi, Webb's said it was a positive meeting and would promote constructive dialogue moving forward.

"It was acknowledged by Webb's that a climate of empathy toward Māori by corporate Aotearoa has become the norm.

"Webb's Auction House are excited to increase their capacity to engage respectfully and honourably with iwi Māori where taonga of cultural significance come to the market."

Meanwhile, a direct descendent of Hongi Hika, Haami Piripi said there's a strong desire for the musket to be returned to the iwi, if it is indeed Hika's gun.

"People finally have been saying, we need to acquire it if it's the real thing. We need to acquire it and make a good use of it. There's been a strong desire.

"If that is the case for us to do that, it is a very very strong testament to it and people are expressing it to me all over the place, so that emotional link to it is really real. And I think it's a question of connectivity with our nationhood and the importance of it In that context can't be underestimated."

"People have identified it as a source of iwi pride and would like to be able to exhibit and display it and utilise it as a source of iwi pride. It's been that feeling rather than the feeling of anger.

"If it turns out that, that it is the real deal, then I think it's an extremely significant event for the nation."

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