Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Tā’ere Mā’ohi i Aotearoa: Mā’ohi Culture

Vaihiria Poetai Kei, here at the Mā’ohi Nui exhibition at Auckland Museum, says she can’t wait to go home to Tahiti. Photo/Brett Phibbs.

Te Rina Triponel, Mā’ohi Nui exhibition explores the Tahitian diaspora in New Zealand, NZ Herald, 21 April 2022

When Covid-19 hit the shores of Aotearoa, it meant the Tahitian diaspora of New Zealand were unable to return home during border closures.

The Mā’ohi Nui exhibition, called Te Tanga, was put together in hopes to help mitigate the physical separation from the homeland and lessen the emotional impact of being separated from home.

But it’s also said to make Kiwis aware that Tahitians are very much part of the fabric of Aotearoa.

“When I moved to New Zealand, I saw a lot about Samoan and Tongan culture, and even the little islands like Tuvalu and Kiribati,” Mā’ohi Nui acting director Vaihiria Poetai Kei told the Herald.

“But I don’t see Tahitian culture reflected in NZ. The exhibition really started up that fire.”

“We wanted to share and express that we are here, we are part of the Pacific, we are a part of Aotearoa.”

Te Tanga is the name of the exhibition for two reasons. In te reo Māori it means “the landing place”, but it also expresses the idea of a harbour where one can feel protected and safe. It reflects the relationship between Māori and Mā’ohi who have strong ancestral ties.

Mā’ohi Nui is made up of Tahiti and its five neighbouring archipelagos – Tuha’a Pae (Austral Islands), Mangareva (Gambier Islands), Henua Enana (Marquesas), Ni’a Mata’i and Raro Mata’i (Society Islands) and Tuamotu.

The artefacts invite the Mā’ohi Nui community and other Kiwis to connect with the ai’a (homeland) and give New Zealanders an insight to Mā’ohi culture.

“Opening this exhibition has been a highlight of living in New Zealand since I moved here in 2014,” Vaihiria said.

“Seeing all the different artefacts made me think, ‘oh I remember that’, or ‘my grandmother did that’.”

The exhibition captures a Tahitian lifestyle that is slowly becoming diluted as a result of colonisation and capitalism. During a pandemic where people are oceans away from their homelands, it signifies the importance of keeping your culture alive.

“It made me cry; it made me want to go home.”

Te Tanga is also a safe space for other diasporic communities who share the same experiences of nostalgia or missing their native lands.

“This is a unique historical and cultural platform that showcases who we are, where we are from, and where we are going. We are the descendants of unequalled sailors who, with stellar navigational skills and resilience, have crossed the vast uncharted ocean of Te Moana Nui a Hiva [the Pacific Ocean] in search of new lands. We are from Havaiki Nui, our mythical motherland and we will go back there after our passage on Earth.”

The tifaifai (patchwork quilts) represents knowledge sharing. The display of hoe (paddles) is recognition of the ancestors as the greatest celestial and ocean navigators on Earth, this also connects the rest of the Pacific.

The two pou (pillars) standing at the entrance to the gallery represent the tia (guardians). They are the ti’i/tiki (statues) who are entrusted with spiritual mana (power) and whose role is to watch over humans and their creations.

Te Tanga also explores the 30-year nuclear testings throughout Mā’ohi Nui which ceased in 1996 due to protests.

Nearly 200 nuclear tests were conducted on Fangataufa and Moruroa atolls by the French government. It caused contamination of the environment and exposed the population to dangerous radiation levels.

French military scientists found high radiation levels in fish, water, air and soil samples. In 1998, the French government admitted that the population of the islands within Mā’ohi Nui (Tureia, Reao, Pukarua, Mangareva and Tahiti) were affected by radioactive fallout from the nuclear tests.

Tahiti’s airline Air Tahiti Nui is offering flights for New Zealanders to Tahiti starting May 5.

Mā’ohi Nui exhibition at Auckland Museum. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Mā’ohi Nui is made up of Tahiti and its five neighbouring archipelagos – Tuha’a Pae (Austral Islands), Mangareva (Gambier Islands), Henua Enana (Marquesas), Ni’a Mata’i and Raro Mata’i (Society Islands) and Tuamotu.

The artefacts invite the Mā’ohi Nui community and other Kiwis to connect with the ai’a (homeland) and give New Zealanders an insight to Mā’ohi culture.

“Opening this exhibition has been a highlight of living in New Zealand since I moved here in 2014,” Vaihiria said.

“Seeing all the different artefacts made me think, ‘oh I remember that’, or ‘my grandmother did that’.”

The exhibition captures a Tahitian lifestyle that is slowly becoming diluted as a result of colonisation and capitalism. During a pandemic where people are oceans away from their homelands, it signifies the importance of keeping your culture alive.

“It made me cry; it made me want to go home.”

Te Tanga is also a safe space for other diasporic communities who share the same experiences of nostalgia or missing their native lands.

“This is a unique historical and cultural platform that showcases who we are, where we are from, and where we are going. We are the descendants of unequalled sailors who, with stellar navigational skills and resilience, have crossed the vast uncharted ocean of Te Moana Nui a Hiva [the Pacific Ocean] in search of new lands. We are from Havaiki Nui, our mythical motherland and we will go back there after our passage on Earth.”

The tifaifai (patchwork quilts) represents knowledge sharing. The display of hoe (paddles) is recognition of the ancestors as the greatest celestial and ocean navigators on Earth, this also connects the rest of the Pacific.

The two pou (pillars) standing at the entrance to the gallery represent the tia (guardians). They are the ti’i/tiki (statues) who are entrusted with spiritual mana (power) and whose role is to watch over humans and their creations.

Hoe (paddles) on display at the Mā’ohi Nui exhibition at Auckland Museum. It reflects the ancestors who are said to be the greatest navigators of all time. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Te Tanga also explores the 30-year nuclear testings throughout Mā’ohi Nui which ceased in 1996 due to protests.

Nearly 200 nuclear tests were conducted on Fangataufa and Moruroa atolls by the French government. It caused contamination of the environment and exposed the population to dangerous radiation levels.

French military scientists found high radiation levels in fish, water, air and soil samples. In 1998, the French government admitted that the population of the islands within Mā’ohi Nui (Tureia, Reao, Pukarua, Mangareva and Tahiti) were affected by radioactive fallout from the nuclear tests.

Tahiti’s airline Air Tahiti Nui is offering flights for New Zealanders to Tahiti starting May 5.

Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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