Thirteen authors collaborated to write this remarkable book which chronicles four ground-breaking ethnological expeditions undertaken by the Dominion Museum from 1919-1923. Initiated by esteemed Māori leader Sir Apirana Ngata, they were the first ethnological expeditions in the world to be led by indigenous leaders.
World War One had just ended and was followed shortly afterwards by the Spanish influenza. The toll in human lives was enormous, and disproportionally and devastatingly high for Māori. So many elders were passing away that Sir Apirana Ngata became deeply concerned that knowledge of Māori ancestral tikanga, would be lost. He wanted to gather these taonga from tribal areas across the North Island before it was too late so they could be preserved for future generations and help to spark a cultural revival.
As well as Sir Apirana Ngata and medical doctor-soldier-ethnographer Te Rangihīroa (Sir Peter Buck), the team included photographer and filmmaker James McDonald, ethnologist Elsdon Best and Turnbull librarian Johannes Andersen. They had access to cutting edge technology of the day including cinematic film and wax cylinders.
Māori war historian, Monty Soutar, writes about the first expedition to Hui Aroha in 1919 in Gisborne in this book and masterly recreates the deeply emotional atmosphere of this event. It was held to show gratitude and raise funds for all those who had made sacrifices in World War One, a time to celebrate those soldiers who had returned and to mourn those who had died.
As it was a large intertribal hui Sir Apirana Ngata knew it would be an excellent opportunity for the team to collect phonographic and photographic records of songs, speeches, haka, and poi dances.
In 1920 the team travelled to Rotorua where there was a massive intertribal gathering from across the country to welcome Prince Edward, heir to the British throne on an official visit. This hui provided another great opportunity to record ancestral tikanga.
On their third expedition, in 1921, the team visited communities along the Whanganui river. Just how vital the presence of a Māori Leader was to gain the support of the river people soon became apparent when Andersen and McDonald arrived in Koroniti with their notebooks. The people were suspicious suspecting they might be tax collectors. McDonald’s camera was also seen as a thing to be avoided as they were not familiar with it. It was not until Sir Peter Buck arrived from Auckland the next morning that, after the customary formal welcome at the local marae, and speeches from the local rangatira, he was able to give a lively speech which allayed their fears and won them over.
Thanks to the generosity of the river communities the team was then able to make a huge number of recordings which included songs, chants, the process of basket and mat weaving, ancestral gardening techniques, building fish traps and even an exuberant display of communal skipping.
In the Dominion Museum’s 1921 annual report McDonald recorded that during this expedition he had shot over 300 still photographs and more than 5000 feet of cinematographic film. Over fifty cylinders of dictaphone records of Native songs were also taken.
Apirana Ngata invited the fourth expedition to come to Tairāwhiti, his home region, in 1923. The team were welcomed with lavish hospitality and were again provided with many opportunities to record the ancestral practices of his own Ngāti Porou people.
Hei Taonga mā ngā Uri Whakatipu. Treasures for the Rising Generation is a stunning book. I found the detailed descriptions of what took place during these expeditions fascinating. James McDonald’s beautiful photographs brought these people and their artistry vividly to life for me.
The photographs in this book are just a small part of the vast quantities of photographs, films, recordings, and notes, amassed by the team. Unfortunately, over time the films slowly degraded but after a restoration process Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision were able to compile four historic films, one from each expedition. When they were shown to their descendants they greeted their tipuna with great enthusiasm and emotion.
There is a clear message in this book that instead of leaving them on shelves and cupboards as collections and private artefacts for museums, libraries, and cultural institutions where they are at present, all the taonga should be returned to the communities from whom they were collected. For they carry the wairua of the people and places, customs, and practices of these communities. It says in the introduction:
‘They should be set free, to be re-united with their descendants to enable language, identity and culture to flourish and grow. Let’s honour the legacy and reconnect the taonga for this and future generations.’
This is surely what Sir Apirana Ngata would have wished.
Reviewer: Lyn Potterr
Te Papa Press