Members of Friends of Te Papa were delighted to join Friends of Pātaka and members of the public recently at Pātaka, which is always a delightful place to visit. The occasion was a special one to see the Te Hei Tiki exhibition and hear from Te Papa’s Kura Pounamu Senior Curator Mātauranga Māori, Dougal Austin (Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu, Waitaha). Dougal’s status as an acknowledged expert is manifest in his curation of the exhibition which has been widely travelled and his 2019 book, Te Hei Tiki.
Dougal explained and illustrated the reasons why Hei Tiki are revered as taonga and held in such regard: the spiritual regard in which pounamu is held and the traditions surrounding its origins, the long and difficult journeys of Māori through the passes of the Southern Alps to source it, its scarcity value, its toughness and beauty.
At the conclusion of a wonderfully informative talk, we were able to look at the exhibits with much greater appreciation, knowing, for example, that those Hei Tiki that were lighter had been heated to a very high temperature becoming black before having that surface removed, and that the making of the cords was an art form in itself.
Thanks to Dougal’s expertise and the hospitality of the Friends of Pātaka we left after an enjoyable morning with an enhanced knowledge and appreciation of pounamu and Hei Tiki.