Icons Ngā Taonga from the Collections of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Press, 2004. 306 pp.
Treasures from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Press, 2005. 220 pp.
Reviewed by Moira Smith
Papa Tongarewa, the Museum of New Zealand, was created in 1992 by the
merging of the National Museum (established in 1865) and the National
Art Gallery (established in 1930). These two books are intended as an
introduction to the museum’s collections, or as “a gateway into a
treasure house, inviting a glimpse of the riches within and giving
readers a wider view of the objects and stories encountered at the
museum” (Treasures p. viii). Taonga is Māori for ‘highly prized treasure’ and is used here to refer to the museum’s collections in their entirety.
Icons is a handsome book of coffee-table size; Treasures
is a scaled down version of the same book. Both books consist of
handsome color photographs of objects from the collections of Te Papa
(as it is universally known). The books are divided into five sections:
Ngā Taonga (art and history); Art; Natural History; History; and
Pacific (devoted to the art and history of the peoples of other Pacific
islands). The objects featured “range from an internationally acclaimed
art work to a starfish found every day on the coast” (Icons,
p. viii). Each attractive photograph is accompanied by an informative
description describing the item’s provenance and significance, and
where the subject is particularly relevant to Māori, the text is in
both English and Māori.
bilingual text reflects Te Papa’s prevailing bicultural ethos. By
Government mandate, Te Papa is required to emphasize biculturalism in
the spirit of New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi,
signed between Māori chiefs and the British crown in 1840. The two
streams of this bicultural approach are Māori (tangata whenua, ‘those who belong to the country by right of first discovery’) and Pakeha (tangata tiriti, or ‘those who belong to the country by right of the Treaty’ (Icons,
p. xi). In practice, this ethos is manifested in the museum’s principle
of shared governance: Māori are involved in the administration and
management of Te Papa. More specifically, this principle of shared
governance is reflected in the concept of mana taonga, according to which Māori have “the right to care for taonga, to speak about them, and to determine their use by the museum” (Icons,
p. 2). Further—and more radically—research at Te Papa is explicitly
informed by both western academic scholarship and Māori knowledge
systems (‘mātauranga Māori’) (Icons p. xii).
the introductory text to these volumes will draw the attention of
anyone interested in New Zealand’s unique approach to bicultural museum
practice, the bulk of these books is given over to the gorgeous
photographs. Along with the accompanying texts, they provide a
fascinating glimpse into New Zealand’s environment, history, and
culture, as well as to the history of Te Papa and its collections.
Smith is a folklorist and the subject area librarian for the fields of
folklore, sociology and anthropology at Indiana University. A native of
New Zealand, her research concerns the topics of humor, witchcraft,
legend and belief, and the ethnography of information seeking
practices. She also edits the Journal of Folklore Research.