Visiting a wharenui in an American museum inspired The Project presenter Kanoa Lloyd to reconnect with Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast for the first time in nearly 30 years.
This story initially appeared on OurAuckland and is shared with permission.
Kanoa Lloyd’s trip back to where her life began started with a chance remark to her producer Gwen McClure “about my cuzzies on the East Coast”.
McClure had just heard about a wharenui (meeting house) called Ruatepupuke II from Tokomaru Bay that had been in the Field Museum in Chicago since 1925. So she asked Lloyd, a host on TV3’s The Project, to go for a visit. Lloyd thought it would be a nice trip and a simple story, but it ended up being far more than that. Seeing the building was a powerful experience that brought her to tears, and, as she said on the show: “I feel a bit bad that I don’t know more about this place.”
Initially, she struggled with the idea that the building was stuck inside, and likened it to seeing a tiger in the zoo. She thought it must have ended up there through unjust means – there are an estimated 16,000 taonga in overseas collections, some of which were traded illegally or stolen. But in this case, she had to adjust her view. The wharenui, built in 1881, was willingly sold and a curator from the Field Museum bought it after finding it in a sorry state in Germany in 1902. The curators at the Field Museum have had a long relationship with Ngāti Porou, and the wharenui in the museum has become a meeting place for First Nation people. “It’s quite poetic that something like this can bring people together and create a platform for minorities to be heard.”
Lloyd’s trip to Chicago inspired a personal desire to reconnect, so she returned to Tokomaru Bay for the first time in nearly 30 years to find out more about the wharenui and her whānau . The relationship to tūrangawaewae is often complicated, she says. Her parents aren’t together, and she grew up in Dunedin. “That’s really far away from Gisborne.” And many don’t have the means to travel. But people get called to go home in all sorts of different ways. She recommends following that impulse and – whether Māori or Pākehā – trying to learn more about the past.
So, does Lloyd think we are seeing, hearing and celebrating our unique Māori identity enough in Auckland? “We could always do more,” she says. Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei are a “powerful force for good” in that regard, and she says institutions like Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and Auckland War Memorial Museum are doing a great job of bringing the past to life and honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Lloyd, who lives in Waterview, loves seeing examples of Māori design in the real world, whether it’s patterns on a new piece of motorway or carved pou standing guard over a new bridge. But identity is also a feeling. “For me, when I feel my most Māori, the closest to who I am and where I come from, I’m at the beach or in the bush; in places like Piha or Huia.” Language also plays an important role in identity and, while Lloyd says she is still learning te reo, she has helped with the “mainstreaming of Māoritanga” by using te reo on air. She believes that if everyone does something small, it eventually adds up.
This story was first published on Our Auckland.