Te Aika hei tiki returns home for Kura Pounamu exhibition

Friday 14 December 2018

An important pounamu hei tiki will be displayed in its home province for the first time in more than a decade as part of the exhibition Kura Pounamu: Our Treasured Stone, which opens at the Museum on Saturday.

Corban Te Aika with Te Aika hei tiki

Corban Te Aika, Curator Human History (Mātauranga Māori) with the Te Aika hei tiki

The Te Aika hei tiki is among the earliest known pounamu hei tiki (greenstone pendants in human form) carved in Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island).

The tiki, which is cared for by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, is one of more than 200 pounamu taonga (treasures) featured in the exhibition.

Kura Pounamu: Our Treasured Stone is presented by Te Papa and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.

The hei tiki is of particular significance to Corban Te Aika, Canterbury Museum Curator Human History (Mātauranga Māori), because it belonged to his family for more than 200 years.

The hei tiki, carved from the pale pounamu variety known as inanga, was buried with Corban’s seventh great-grandfather near the Ngāi Tahu settlement of Kaiapoi Pā.

It was exhumed in 1831 when the pā fell to the forces of the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha. Corban’s fourth great-grandfather Aperahama Te Aika, then in his late teens, retrieved the hei tiki to save it from being looted by the marauding warriors.

Corban’s second great-grandfather sold the tiki to a collector in 1922 when the family fell on hard times. It changed hands several times, spending nearly half a century in London before the family, with support from Canterbury Museum, worked with Te Papa to bring it home. Te Papa purchased the tiki in 1991.

Corban last saw the hei tiki more than a decade ago when it was loaned to Canterbury Museum to display at the Te Aika family’s request.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the tiki on display here in Waitaha (Canterbury),” he says. “It’s a significant taonga in our whānau and we are excited that it will be home for the next 6 months. It is a symbol of the mana of our tīpuna, as are many taonga in this exhibition for other whānau. Each has its own story to share.

“I hope others find it interesting. It is a beautiful taonga and a fine example of a hei tiki, though the hei tiki’s story is its most interesting aspect – its history and association with the fall of Kaiapoi Pā as well as its travel and trade exploits to the other side of the world.

“The hei tiki also connects to a new part of the exhibition we’ve created around Ngāi Tahu stories about the discovery of pounamu in Te Tai o Poutini (the West Coast) and the role of Kaiapoi Pā as the major trading centre for the taonga.”

Kura Pounamu is presented by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. Originally displayed at Te Papa from 2009 to 2011, the exhibition has since toured in China and France. It will show at Canterbury Museum from 15 December to 3 June 2019.

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