By Pokere Paewai
Several taonga stolen by the police during the Crown invasion and sacking of Maungapōhatu a century ago have been returned.
The return was set to coincide with the rededication of the wharenui, Tānenuiārangi, which has undergone extensive refurbishment to both the building and its carvings.
The whare was built not long before the community was raided and ransacked by the police in 1916, to snuff out the community that had formed at Maungapōhatu under the guidance of the Tūhoe prophet Rua Kenana.
During that invasion several taonga - including tokotoko, flags and kakahu - were taken and ended up in museums around the country for more than a century.
Professor Taiarahia Black, who helped with the return of the taonga, said the people never forgot what happened.
"The police had ransacked all of the homes at Maungapōhatu, taking precious taonga from those homes, personal items, and a number of other items."
"They just helped themselves. These taonga were kakahu, tewhatewha, tokotoko, [and] a number of other things."
Taiarahia Black said the Police Commissioner at the time even ordered the community's flags be ripped down, as they pursued Rua Kenana, who the Crown viewed as seditious.
In 2019, the Crown apologised and pardoned Rua Kenana posthumously.
Professor Taiarahia Black said the return of the taonga has reconnected the local hapū, Tamakaimoana, to their ancestors.
"The taonga unlocks their memory, allows Tamakaimoana of today to be part of the spiritual experience of all of these taonga that were on the marae."
"It allows us to get a feel for how the people lived, how they cared for their taonga."
Black said the return of the taonga has already boosted confidence among the community, which will be channelled into better research and education opportunities.
The taonga were scattered in museums throughout the country, and Black worked with Te Whare Taketake Ō Taonga museum and Whakatāne District Council to arrange for their return.
Now, they have finally returned to their home, deep within the luscious misty hills of Te Urewera.