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The role of a museum (Te Papa) in the rejuvenation of taonga puoro : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Museum Studies at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand
This thesis examines the role of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in the rejuvenation of taonga puoro (Maori musical instruments). The purpose of this study is to examine the Museum’s relationship with taonga puoro practitioners.
This thesis documents the foundation of the Haumanu taonga puoro revitalisation group and their relationship with Te Papa. Therefore I have selected instrumental figures – Dr. Richard Nunns and Brian Flintoff, to elucidate their insight on this topic. The late Hirini Melbourne remains a constant and treasured presence throughout the process for Nunns and Flintoff. However, the focus of the thesis is to identify what has Te Papa done and can do better, to help facilitate the rejuvenation of taonga puoro, based on the years of developing a relationship with the Haumanu group. Furthermore, within this context, I examine my own practice as a Maori Curator at Te Papa.
The central question to this study is the role of Te Papa, in terms of its relevance to one particular sector, the Maori cultural practitioners and revivalists. The challenge is: how much is Te Papa willing to risk, in relaxing control - to be relevant to the needs of this community?
Four key research questions are explored: what has Te Papa done to help facilitate the rejuvenation and maintenance of puoro, what could Te Papa be doing more of to nurture the rejuvenation and maintenance of puoro; what are the key factors that support an achievement of these objectives: and, what are the challenges for the future.
Te Papa documentation from 1995 to 2014 is also a primary source. As a Maori Curator at Te Papa, I reflect on my role and the tensions between personal, cultural and professional roles that the rejuvenation of taonga puoro creates.
The thesis argues that cultural revitalisation, as a process of ‘liberation’ (Kreps 2003a) has a transformative power, to redefine the significance of taonga in museums as cultural and spiritual inspiration for present and future generations. The ‘creative potential’ (Royal 2006) paradigm opens up a future for knowledge development that museums should be a part of. This potentiality has cultural and social benefits, which is identified as a restorative healing process, a philosophy of health and wellbeing, a form of ‘hauora’ (healing).
This inductive research shows that the role of a museum is important to practitioners’ but there are contradictions and paradoxical issues to museum practice that make situations complex. This research reveals that ‘taonga puoro, taonga hauora’ is a model that can transform museum practice by operating not just to preserve materiality, but the intangible aspects of a peoples’ living culture.