This book for me for some reason reminds me one of my whanau scrapbooks; perhaps it is the fact that as a child growing up in Christchurch one of our favourite outings always used to be to the Canterbury Museum. At the entrance one could see artifacts donated by my great grandfather from the Chatham Islands – whom we never met at that place of mystery where our father’s family came from. My Granddad’s photos of Moriori now form part of the permanent Chatham Island exhibition in Te Papa.
Perhaps it is the fact that I am also part of Ngati Poneke and there are some amazing pictures in this book that, when I showed them to different Kuia and Korua, there was immediate recognition and some real interest showed by younger whanau members.
Perhaps it was the fact that I have known Conal McCarthy since the early 1980s when we were both students at Canterbury University – he is now the director of Victoria University’s Museum and Heritage programme. This book is based on his doctorate and it is well worth reading.
It is in many ways a social history book tracing how Maori were presented to a largely European/Pakeha audience from the early days, from about 1840 through the Colonial/ Dominion Museums and the National Art Gallery, through to more recent times including the Te Maori Exhibition. Our Maori Pro-Vice Chancellor Piri Sciascia was the Executive Officer for the Te Maori exhibition, and at the book launch this book was described as something that all New Zealanders should read and a taonga (or treasure) in its own right.
Conal describes the exhibition Te Maori as “a fantastic example of the extraordinary success Maori have had at intervening in museum representations of their culture. It was an event and a cultural experience that went beyond the display of exhibits.”
As someone who was a kaiawhina (guide) during that exhibition 20 years ago, I agree it was a great experience, but the question I ask is: have things really changed since then? While Conal clearly does believe things have changed, I am not so sure – perhaps I am just too cynical.