May 8, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Te Maori may be about to go on the road again

3 min read

Twenty-five years after the first international exhibition of treasured Maori art, plans are under way for a second Te Maori.

Te MaoriThe team that curated the taonga collection that toured the United States in the mid-1980s will gather today at Lower Hutt’s Waiwhetu Marae to reminisce.

It was launched at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art on September 10, 1984, and went on to tour New York, St Louis, San Francisco and Chicago to critical acclaim. About 620,000 Americans came to see the 174 taonga.

Participants, including Maori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, who performed the role of a warrior at the New York opening ceremony, said the exhibition was hugely empowering for Maori.

Now those involved in the first Te Maori are exploring the possibility of holding another series of exhibitions.

Victoria University administrator Professor Piri Sciascia, who was the main organiser for the original display, said there were preliminary plans to hold another in the same US venues with an emphasis on Maori and Pacific Island weaving, including traditional bird feather cloaks, mats and baskets and modern weavers’ wearable arts.

Another proposal would take privately held taonga, and the Maori and European families who own them, on tour around Europe or the Pacific Rim.

“We are looking for a ground-breaking edge, something transformational. One of the amazing things for Americans [in response to the original Te Maori] was the live cultural aspect.

“They’d never seen elders talking to a carving like it was a relative. They breathed life into the exhibition and you couldn’t have anything less,” he said.

Professor Sciascia said Creative New Zealand had done feasibility studies on some proposals but any tour would be a “big undertaking” that would require financial support.

Te Maori which finished in the US in 1986 and went on to tour New Zealand featured on television stations throughout the US and even made the front page of the New York Times.

Mori Pickering, who at 100 is the oldest surviving member of the Te Maori support team, is unable to travel to Wellington to attend the celebrations.

She proudly wore a handwoven kiwi feather cloak given to her by Princess Te Puea of Waikato on the tour in San Francisco, and yesterday at her Dunedin home she donned the cloak again as a tribute to Te Maori.

The show was the first time Maori art from all New Zealand iwi, with the exception of one in Wanganui, had been gathered in one exhibition.

The founding professor of Maori at Victoria University, Sid Mead, said Maori stood taller in the world after Te Maori.

“By the time we had finished our karakia in New York, the frenzied clicking of the cameras of the international press present at the ceremony assured us that this was an historical moment.”


* About 1.54 million people visited Te Maori 620,000 in the United States and 920,000 in New Zealand.

* 174 taonga normally housed in numerous local museums were put on display before being returned.

* 38 taonga were supplied through the old National Museum before their return.

* In 1986-87 the exhibition returned as Te Maori: Te hokinga mai, the return home. It was shown in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Auckland.

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