Ancestors in Museums

For the Bay of Islands taonga collected in 1806 in the Peabody Essex Museum, and for many, many more taonga overseas


Have your mokopuna felt your embrace?
This one wishes she had

You are made of muka from our whenua
Molding to the shoulders of the rangatira that wore it

Three dimensional pātikitiki and niho
Threshed paruparu and boiled tāne kaha
Threads of miro so fine from a kuia so meticulous

I miss her. I miss you.

I’m coming for you in those American museum archives
Gatekeepers cannot prevent the generations of weavers
Storming stoney gates
Prying pākehā hands
Carrying kākāhu home

Do you dream of me as I dream of you?

I prepare these many whenu
Harvest the woody tāwai
Dig up fermented mud

For the dawn when you will return home
My kaitaka waiting to meet you
A taonga in the archives
A tūpuna in our eyes


The pūngawerewere crawls inwards and outwards
In between the cyclic wholes of creation
Te korekore manifests
Te tūpuna wahine births
Futurity is captured in kauri

Raperape tapped onto my hips
With the bone teeth of the uhi
Haehae chiseled onto yours
With the heavy stone tools
Nāu te hakapapa i kawe
Te mātauranga
tuku iho

Mira Tuatini

Fifteen teeth from a seven gilled shark
Bound in place with muka and aute
Rākau shaped with stone
Painted in oil and kissed with kōkōwai


Is it the Tai Tokerau materials of ngā atua
Or the blistered hands of the tūpuna that made you
Or the sacred blood of the whānau pani that spilled on you
That brings you this much mana?

Toi is the origin of Māori
And your toi a source to be handed down
Is disrupted in underground museum shelves
Never to be wept over

Featured image by Mickie Loof.


In a dream, you saw a way to survive, and you were filled with joy.


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