14 Mar 2016

Hawaiian treasures return home

4:23 pm on 14 March 2016

Hawaiians are rejoicing at the return of a feather cloak and helmet gifted to Captain Cook in 1779.

A 50 strong delegation from Hawaii arrived in New Zealand to collect the traditional treasures.

The strikingly colourful 'ahu'ula and mahiole were a gift from the Hawaiian chief Kalani'opu'u to Captain Cook.

The cloak and helmet have been in Te Papa's collection since they were gifted to the national museum in 1912, but are about to make the long journey home.

The Hawaiian delegation is welcomed on the marae at the Te Papa Museum.

The Hawaiian delegation is welcomed on the marae at the Te Papa Museum. Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

The Chief Executive of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamana'opono Crabbe, said it is an emotional moment for his islands.

"In Hawai'i we say 'te mea nui, he mea nui mea kupaianaha'. It is so tremendous it is indescribable in terms of the emotion."

Te Papa's Kaihautu or Maori leader, Arapata Hakiwai, said the return of the taonga is a celebration.

"The significance really is we are returning these treasures in the same season 237 years later, back to Hawai'i", he said.

"I think, for the Hawaiian people these important treasures have been away from their land for that amount of time. It is a great celebration to reunite them and to return them to their land and to their people."

Dr Crabbe agreed the timing is ideal.

"It's really remarkable because when Kalani'opu'u gave the 'ahu'ula and mahiole to Captain Cook, he was doing Makahiki season" he said.

"The time of Lono and peace and agriculture and feasting and harvesting. Right now we are just closing Makahiki. It's almost like the spirits and the ancestors are with us. All the stars are aligned. It's tremendous."

Marques Hanalei Marzan is a curator at the Bishop Museum where the taonga will go on display later this month.

The 'Ahu'ula or Hawaiian cloak.  (Gifted in Captain Cook in 1779.)

The 'Ahu'ula or Hawaiian cloak. Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

He said it will be displayed in the main hall as a source of inspiration.

"This is a moment for reconnections of family members, lineal descendants to connect back to their kupuna", Mr Marazan said.

"For visitors and other people around the world, as well as across the islands, to come and pay their respects to these sacred treasures."

Mr Marzan said out of all existing ancient Hawaiian featherwork the taonga are the only ones with an unbroken provenance and lineage.

He said the return signifies an ongoing strengthening of the link between Maori and the people of Hawai'i.

"We are all a large ohana. Even though the ocean separates us, we don't see it as a separation, we see it as a thing that joins us all together. It is definitely making us stronger, making us feel closer to one another because of these connections that we are making today."

Dr Hakiwai said although the taonga have officially been loaned to the Bishop Museum for 10 years, there are discussions to extend that or possibly make it permanent.

The Mahiole or Hawaiian helmet gifted to Captain Cook in 1779.

The Mahiole or Hawaiian helmet gifted to Captain Cook in 1779. Photo: RNZI / Koro Vaka'uta

"That's the desire and the feeling I think with the discussions we have had with the Bishop museum", he said.

"I think that is great because we know that Maori taonga (is) held in overseas museums as well and we have started at some stage to build the relationship so those treasures can come home as well."

Dr Crabbe from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs agreed.

"They have a number of Taonga Maori there and Bishop Museum will be in discussions", he said.

"It's only proper. It's only very Polynesian to aloha aku, aloha mai. When you give, you receive in compassion. To reciprocate, that is a tradition."

The taonga left New Zealand's shores on Sunday, and will be exhibited in the Bishop Museum from March the 19th.