Wakahuia (treasure box), 1700-1777, Maker unknown, North Island. Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992. Te Papa

Te kaupapa – Exhibition themes and ideas 

Tino rangatiratanga

Tino rangatiratanga is the ability to choose one’s own destiny. It is also expressed in such words as sovereignty, authority, and chieftainship.


The concept of tino rangatiratanga lies at the heart of E Tū Ake: Standing Strong. Here, taonga Māori (ancestral Māori treasures) stand alongside contemporary works to show the artistic depth and political aspirations of a vibrant and modern indigenous culture.

Rangatira means chief. Rangatiratanga is chieftainship. The word rangatiratanga was used by missionaries when translating the word kingdom in the Lord's Prayer. The word tino intensifies the word it precedes. Therefore, tino rangatiratanga can be translated as absolute chieftainship or sovereignty over one's kingdom.

The principle of mana taonga

E Tū Ake: Standing Strong is an exhibition from Te Papa – New Zealand’s national museum and guardian of the nation's natural and cultural treasures.

In this role, Te Papa embraces the principle of mana taonga by working closely with all communities who have an association with items in the national collection, including iwi (tribes) and Māori communities.  In recognition of their unique relationship with taonga, iwi-Māori actively contribute to the research, care, management, and presentation of taonga in the national collection.

Te Papa's ancestral and contemporary taonga Māori lie at the heart of the national collections – of art, history, natural history, and Pacific cultures. For Māori, these taonga are more than objects. They are sacred links with the past – a past that is alive in the present and guides Māori towards the future.

The taonga in this exhibition express not only the histories, identities, and worldview of Māori, but also the political aspirations of a strong and resilient culture.

The overarching theme of the exhibition is tino rangatiratanga (self-determination), the road to which is explored in three segments: Whakapapa, Mana, and Kaitiakitanga.

Whakapapa (interrelatedness)

Toki poutangata (ceremonial adze), 1500-1800, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Oldman Collection.

Toki poutangata (ceremonial adze), 1500-1800, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992. Te Papa

In the Māori world-view, all things are related. This interconnectedness between people, the natural environment, inanimate objects, and materials is whakapapa. 

Whakapapa is expressed through genealogies, rituals, and stories, many of which predate the arrival of the ancestors in Aotearoa New Zealand. Whakapapa forms a foundation of knowledge that allows people to define who they are, how they are related to others, and how they connect with the world around them. Tribal experts were traditionally responsible for the preservation and correct use of this knowledge.

The Whakapapa segment of E Tū Ake explores identity

Whakapapa defines who you are from, where you are from, and therefore where you belong.

Whakapapa is explored through key taonga: waka (canoes or vessels); whare tūpuna (ancestral meeting houses); and tā moko (the art of inked carving on skin). 

Mana (empowerment, prestige, and authority)

Putorino (bugle flute), 1800-1850, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Purchased 2007. Te Papa

Putorino (bugle flute), 1800-1850, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Purchased 2007. Te Papa

Mana is a force derived from the spiritual world, the domain of the gods. It is a quality that resides in all people and other living things. It is imbued in inanimate objects and materials. It is inherited from the gods through whakapapa (genealogy). Over  the course of a lifetime, one's mana either increases or decreases, depending on one's accumulated achievements or misdeeds. By asserting their tino rangatiratanga (self determination), people with mana can also empower others. 

Personal treasures, cloaks, and musical instruments can be outward symbols of mana and identity. These objects gain their own mana from sources that include their creator, their owner, their tribal links, their symbolic meaning, and the momentous events in which they have been involved.

E Tū Ake explores the influence of mana in both tangible and intangible forms of taonga, in people’s relationships with those taonga, and in people’s relationships with each other, their tūpuna (ancestors), and future generations.  

Mana reo is the mana associated with the Māori language. By the 1970s, it was confirmed that te reo Māori (the Māori language) would disappear unless drastic measures were taken to ensure its survival. Since then, Māori have used legal challenges, political activism, and political engagement as tools to restore mana reo and ensure the future of Māori as a living language, as a taonga for the nation. 

The Mana segment of E Tū Ake explores leadership

It explores interconnections between the concept of mana and symbols that reflect it: 

  • objects for personal adornment – pounamu (New Zealand jade) and cloaks of great prestige
  • customary musical instruments – taonga pūoro
  • the Māori language itself – te reo Māori.

Kaitiakitanga

Flag, Maori, 1998, Te Kawariki Group, Wellington. Te Papa

Flag, Maori, 1998, Te Kawariki Group, Wellington. Te Papa

In the Māori world view, all creations come from Papatūānuku (the Earth Mother) and Ranginui (the Sky Father) and are therefore interconnected. Human beings are both part of this natural order and its guardians, a relationship expressed through kaitiakitanga (responsibility, care, and guardianship).  

Kaitiakitanga requires Māori people to protect and manage the resources in their own tribal areas. If these resources are used wisely and sustainably, people can continue to extend manākitanga (care and hospitality) to each other and to guests. Manākitanga is one of the greatest expressions of mana, that is, a chief's and a tribe's ability to provide care and hospitality to others. A symbol of this would be a beautifully carved and fully stocked pataka such as the one in E Tū Ake, which is called Pukehina.

In the twenty-first century, Māori continue to re-establish and exercise kaitiakitanga over their resources where it is possible. However, in 2004 a parliamentary Act was passed, giving the Crown ownership over the foreshore and seabed. Without tino rangatiratanga (authority) over the foreshore and seabed, Māori aspirations and their ability to exercise kaitiakitanga were seriously challenged.

Kaitiakitanga also includes the nurturing and protection of intangible taonga (treasures) such as the Māori language, culture, and values. Kaitiakitanga is crucial in ensuring that all things treasured by Māori continue to sustain tribal well-being.

The Kaitiakitanga segment of E Tū Ake explores guardianship, responsibility, and care between humans and the natural world

If people protect the environment, the environment will sustain people's physical and cultural well-being in return.

Kaitiakitanga highlights the role of Māori in finding global solutions for the challenges of natural resource management and environmental sustainability.