Preserving the Mana of a Fighting Chief

Maketū men have sacrificed their lives for 100 years in defence roles of attrition and peacekeeping in foreign wars and hot spots globally. The Boer War underpinned a familiar theme in the acquisition of land by force for Māori and Pākehā. The consequences since the South African war for Maketū was manpower involvement in twentieth-century warfare. There is no surprise that those men had descended from Te Arawa and Ngāti Pikiao, ferocious and highly skilled fighting chiefs who defended their territories against envious enemies. Pukaki was a fighting chief and a direct descendant of Whakaue and Tutanekai.

Pukaki survived into old age and died at Parawai leaving a legacy of land and descendants who continue to live in and around the Parawai pā situated at Ngongotaha [1]. As a direct descendant of Pukaki, I also enjoy his legacy of ancestral lands.

In 1985, ‘Te Māori’ exhibition on tour in the United States of America provided a visible showcase of New Zealand taonga and a brilliant example of a history recorded through carvings. One of the most unique aspects of the exhibition was the delegation of Māori elders who accompanied the carvings: they exemplified and explained the life force generated by the taonga. On the return home, ‘Te Māori’ also provided an opportunity for New Zealanders to acquaint themselves with national treasures depicting Māori culture and experience New Zealand’s living history.

Since the 1985 ‘Te Māori’ exhibition, Te Arawa have shown interest in the preservation of Pukaki, which was included in the selection of taonga that travelled overseas. The iwi concern is in the maintenance of taonga for future generations and thus keeping alive the history of Pukaki in his time.

An appreciation of this taonga requires an understanding of its history. The taonga depicts a Ngāti Whakaue, Te Arawa ancestor and fighting chief Pukaki embracing two sons, Wharengaro and Rangitakuku; there is a remnant of Pukaki’s wife Ngapuia between his legs.

During the nineteenth century, Pukaki was a carved gateway towering at a height of five metres and facing the southern entrance to Ōhinemutu on Pukeroa pā and current site of the Rotorua Public Hospital. In the 1830s, Ngapuia and the side panels were removed and thus transformed the carving from a gateway to a tiki [2].

The main Ngāti Whakaue concern in terms of the ongoing care and preservation of Pukaki is the prospect of deterioration. This concern prompted discussions with the Pukaki Trustees [3] and recently held discussions among descendants of Pukaki at Tamatekapua in Ōhinemutu, Rotorua.

The decision was made to move our taonga from its present resting place within the chambers of the Rotorua City Council to a temporary location where Pukaki would be immersed in a preservative solution. After the process of preservation is completed, Pukaki will be transported to the Museum in Government Gardens, Rotorua, where an environmentally controlled room (currently being built) will contain the taonga and provide easy access for public display.

On 17 October 2010 at 4 a.m. the ceremony to move Pukaki will begin. Hopefully, the fitness ability of the men who will be lifting and moving Pukaki has been considered in the planning of this important event. The success of this event relies on physical strength and nothing else. Medical checks would not go amiss in preparation for the occasion regardless of age. A daily swim to Mokoia and back to Ngongotahā where the fighting chief Pukaki lived out his life wouldn’t go amiss.

Hopefully, the future holds a Te Arawa Museum featuring all our taonga with a view overlooking Mokoia and the surrounding lakes. This would indeed be the last move for a taonga of significance to Te Arawa.

1. Paul Tapsell, Pukaki: A Comet Returns. Birkenhead: Reed Publishing, 2000.

2. Paul Tapsell, Pukaki, 2000.

3. The Pukaki Trust was formed when the taonga was returned to Ngāti Whakaue; a memorandum of understanding was signed by: The Pukaki Trust: Auckland Museum Trust Board, Mr Peter Menzies; Rotorua District Council, The Mayor; The Crown, Chris Finlayson; Ngāti Whakaue, Paul Tapsell.

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