More than 100 early Māori artifacts returned to Ngāti Awa

More than 100 Māori artefacts from an early Māori lake village in the Eastern Bay of Plenty have been returned to its people. Archaeologists from Auckland University have been restoring the ancient artefacts that were excavated from Te Kohika, a Pre-European Ngāti Awa village discovered during the drainage of the Rangitāiki wetlands over 40 years ago.

Today marked a new chapter in the journey of these precious taonga dating from AD 1700 as descendants of the people from whence these treasures came prepared them for their journey home.

Collections and Research Manager Mark Sykes represented the Whakatāne museum and research centre, at a special handing over ceremony, held at AUT's Waipapa Marae early this morning. He says they've been waiting for a while for these taonga to be returned to join with the other taonga from the Kohika collection that they already have.

""We're looking forward to having the collection within Te Whare Taketake but also knowing that the collection is waiting to be talked about and to open and tell the stories of our people," says Sykes.

"It's such a glimpse into our past and I think looking into your past makes you look into your future so it's important for Ngāti Awa, and all the iwi actually around the rohe of Whakatāne, so I think it's a real good chance for these taonga to talk to our people."

For 12 years these artefacts have been carefully treated and analysed at the University of Auckland after farmers discovered the remains of Te Kohika Pā in 1975. Retired Professor of Archaeology Geoffrey Irwin was there from the beginning.

""It's unique in NZ. We've got this view of this village on a little island with a palisade and a whole series of households around the shore, each of them with their own jetty or canoe landing place. It was a bit like a modern marina," he says.

Senior Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences at Auckland University, Dilys Johns has spent a decade working with the taonga. 

"The site is really important because of the layers, the stratigraphy of the site tells us the dates, and when things happened, and we slot the taonga into those timeframes and then we're able to tell a story."

Te Kohika village was abandoned because of flooding and remained untouched for 270 years. The myriad of artefacts unearthed were unusually well preserved and the site is considered to be the most significant archaeological projects of recent times.

"There is a lot of fibre work here and we don't usually get fibre work on an archaeological site because it has disintegrated," says Johns.

"So there were lovely things here like kete, lots of braiding and in terms of the wood there's whakairo and there's patu and there's a spatula, there's a whole range of artefacts and materials that would have been used in everyday Māori life."

"The oldest discovered whare whakairo is there with carved poupou and it just gives us a wonderful view of what things were like before Europeans showed up," says Irwin, who has carried out fieldwork in New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Indonesia and New Zealand.

"It's been a privilege to have been involved with Te Kohika and working with Ngāti Awa over some time," he adds.

Te Kohika Trust, the governing body responsible for looking after the artifacts have loaned them to the Whakatāne Museum and Research Centre where they will be catalogued and further research carried out with the possibility of being exhibited in future.