As the title suggests – this post will explain in a little more detail about this exciting and potentially nationally significant side project of mine.
Some of you may remember my two posts in June last year (check the archives on those) – about my visits to two museums in Germany – Volkerkunde Museum in Berlin and Volkerkunde Museum in Dresden to see if they hold any mahi raranga – woven taonga maori in their vaults – and boy did I get the surprise of my life.
Not only have they many items stored but the quality and rarity exceeded my expectations. I have since learnt that Te Papa has 17 Kahu Kuri (that are cloaks with dog skin) – and I have seen no less than 3 full kahu kuri over there and about 4 more kakahu that had (or still have) partial dog hair attached on them.
The style of piupiu they have in their collections is also very interesting – some have been there since the 1820’s. I only got a glimpse but they also hold many items of mahi whakairo (carved taonga) in their storage and exhibition spaces – so this might be potentially interesting to carvers as well.
However – what struck me the most where some of the very detailed documentation as to where these items came from – essentially their provenance but also their history within the tribal areas. I find this history particularly interesting and this should be investigated further.
While I was there the curators also told me about at least 4 more museums in Germany who also hold taonga maori – some still in boxes after they got returned from Russia after the collapse of the Wall.
This is big – very big. Most people know about the items held in the UK – there is even a great book with all the taonga maori at the British Museum – but not many people are aware about these treasures in other European Museums. They are all part of the 1800’s movement of “preserving a dying culture” – however misguided that seems now.
So I have talked to other weavers about this – and one of the curators at Te Papa and they all agree that this massive new load of information should somehow been made publicly accessible – either in a database in electronic form or via other means of publication (the old-fashioned book comes to mind).
These taonga are an invaluable resource for future generations of weavers and indeed carvers and other artists. We can learn so much from our ancestors and whilst there are many of these already accessible in Museums here in New Zealand – some of those items over there are either unique or pre-date some of the taonga here.
However – this is thin ice as many overseas museums (in particular the German ones) are a little touchy/feely about anybody from other countries asking to see those artefacts. To many countries want their treasures back – they consider them looted. So I am very lucky and happy to have been able to establish a working relationship with at least two of those museums already and I hope they can help me to open the doors to more.
As far as I understand (through my talks with the curator at Te Papa) – New Zealand does not want these items back (unless of course they are human remains) – but instead would like to work with those overseas institutions and museums to preserve, storage correctly and catalogue those items.
This is where I come in – since I already have established that relationship AND speak the language – which is very helpful when deciphering some hand written German notes – we agreed that I should continue this valuable work and try to find more or less all of those taonga, catalogue them and make them available to people here who can’t travel overseas to see these.
Of course this is still early days – we only had one meeting so far to start talking who to involve next and where to apply for funding and which avenues to take. Funding is a big issue – to apply for it takes time and one needs to first prove that there is a vetted interest in this work and what can be achieved.
I have explored different options but these will only kick in next year the earliest (if approved of course). However – I can only travel in winter – when I can’t really weave as much and to the quality that I expect from myself (due to the high humidity where I live everything goes mouldy or water stained very quickly in winter). Also I have a foot in the door now – and can’t allow the door to shut because I can’t make it there for 2 or potentially 3 years – it is hard enough to get the contacts in the first place but people move on and there is some massive re-structuring happening in the cultural sectors over there as well.
So ideally I am trying to get there again this NZ winter – but therein lies the problem – no funding yet – and another trip completely self funded is just not possible – as much as I would like to think so.
This is where Give a Little comes in. Most people know this crowd funding website through other causes – cancer sufferers last wishes etc – but it is also used for fund-raising for the arts (loads of dancers in that category) and other worthy but ultimately money less causes. I have donated here to many causes over the years and I though – well maybe it is my time to put my cause up there and perhaps some people would like me to succeed and use the results that I will come up with.
So I’ve created my own fund raising page Taonga Maori and hope to appeal to a wider audience. I even overcame my dislike of facebook – all for the cause.
As I said – it’s been early days but what I have found already has surprised not only me but others as well and it is something that should be made public and accessible to everybody out there who wants it.
Let me finish this post by thanking you in advance for reading, spreading the word through your own networks and if you do feel inclined to do so your donation – however small or large.
I will be keeping everybody updated on the progress over the next few years and how exciting these years are going to be for all the knowledge we will gain.