Since 2013, an Auckland Museum team has led Te Awe, a project designed to conserve and improve the care of the Museum’s taonga Māori. The project was embedded in Mātauranga Māori and used the expertise of internal and external Māori specialists to help enrich the knowledge surrounding these precious taonga within the Museum.
The Te Awe project is part of the Auckland Museum’s Future Museum vision to improve access to its Tāonga Māori collection through enhancement of records and improving the physical care of precious items.
The name Te Awe, refers to adornment, the additions that embellish taonga through ornamentation – the hair and feathers at the head of a taiaha or heel of a toki, the tags and tassels of kākahu. As with these acts of embellishment, Te Awe project seeks to uphold the mana of taonga in Auckland Museum by advancing our care of them, stablising their forms, suitably rehousing them, and improving digital access through images and documentation. Through these actions we adorn the taonga in our care.
With so many varied items in the Tāonga Māori collection, the project was organised in a phased approach. The first phase of Te Awe (2013-2016) centred on the renewal of Auckland Museum's carving store, home to about 5,400 carved taonga. The second and most recent phase of Te Awe (2017-2019) focused on more than 5,000 textiles and items woven from plant materials.
In The Story of Te Awe, we take a deep dive into the processes taken to explore and share the Museum’s collection of cloaks, some hundreds of years old. For this important work, a group of expert weavers, known as the Taumata Māreikura, were assembled. These knowledge-holders were brought together from iwi across Aotearoa to come and speak over, debate and explore the Museum’s collection of precious taonga. The aim was to enrich, reorganise and improve the care of these taonga in a Māori way that is embedded in Mātauranga Māori, aiming to make the collection more visible and accessible to iwi, hāpu, whānau, museum staff, researchers, and the public.
This is the story of the Museum’s groundbreaking efforts to bring the communities to whom these items belong into the knowledge-sharing space, to impart their knowledge and to learn from them, and to work together to preserve the important teachings these precious taonga can provide for future generations.