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Treasured taonga connects to early pā: Nelson Provincial Museum

Visitors to Nelson Provincial Museum are invited to view, and even share mauri, with Te Rongo o Matangi Āwhio, which is on permanent display in the regional gallery.

Rongo is a small boulder of granodiorite crafted into the form of Rongo Mā Tāne, the atua (god) of cultivation and peace. The role of a rongo was to protect crops such as kūmara. The body has been roughly shaped to resemble a human figure using a technique called hammer dressing, where another stone is used to hammer and shape the edges.

Donated to the Museum in 1951, it has been on display since 2005, when the building on the corner of Trafalgar and Hardy Sts first opened its doors to the public. Today, the rongo is adorned with a contemporary korowai (cloak) woven by local artist Hinekawa Manihera (Ngāti Kuia, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō).

Hamuera Manihera is Nelson Provincial Museum’s Kaitiaki Taonga Māori (Māori Taonga Collections Manager) and says local iwi have kept their connection with the treasured taonga throughout the recent pandemic.

Manihera says the museum provided access to the rongo to ensure appropriate tikanga, or customary practices, could continue despite recent lockdowns and other Covid-19 restrictions.

While it’s quite rare to be able to touch a museum exhibit, Manihera said it’s been important to maintain access to support taonga tikanga, or customs around Māori treasures.

Through touch, he said, “we’ve kept the taonga warm.”

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