Mana taonga in action: Cyclone Gabrielle recovery in Ngāti Kahungunu

Mana taonga in action: Cyclone Gabrielle recovery in Ngāti Kahungunu

Cyclone Gabrielle brought heavy rainfall, strong winds, and storm surges, causing widespread flooding, landslides, and power outages in Taitokerau, Tairāwhiti, and Te Ika-a-Māui. Iwi and hapū in the affected regions suffered damage to marae, urupā, and taonga – some irrevocable – causing long-term impacts on these communities. Head of Mātauranga Māori Migoto Eria and Curator Mātauranga Māori Amber Aranui had their boots on the ground to help out at four marae in Ngāti Kahungunu, alongside Learning Specialist Natasha Hanara, who was already assisting and organising recovery effort at Omahu. Here, Amber and Migoto share their kōrero.

First impressions

The weekend after Cyclone Gabrielle had dissipated, Tangoio Marae in Hawke’s Bay contacted Te Papa about assisting with the retrieval of their taonga and to seek critical advice while they supported those who were evacuated and displaced from their homes.

We went up the following week while the motu was still in a national state of emergency. Natasha Hanara, who happened to be home in Omahu when the cyclone hit, was directly impacted, and had already been working tirelessly with her leadership and determination. All four Kahungunu marae were at varying degrees of recovery and multitasking.

It is true devastation at a large scale that can only be understood if you see it in real life. Flood-ravaged silt-laden buildings at Tangoio Marae. Photo by Migoto Eria

Aroha and manaakitanga

Amongst the shovelling of muddy silt, finding their next meal, or dealing with damaged urupā, Ngāti Kahungunu welcomed our visits with aroha and manaakitanga. We discovered in many cases that Te Papa was the first government agency to arrive and offer support. We were met with huge generosity and they really appreciated our coming to meet with them to listen and to support their recovery plans.

Migoto Eria, Dr Joseph Te Rito, Amber Aranui, and Natasha Hanara. Photo by Migoto Eria

They appreciated having Kahungunu iwi who work at Te Papa, who also hold the skills needed in a time of crisis. Our visits were taken seriously, and we were privileged to access and see first-hand the devastating impacts to their taonga and urupā. Mutual understanding saved our iwi time and energy to work on what was critical: the well-being of our people.

Cue the smiling faces, both young and youngish, in a real army unimog. Photo by Migoto Eria

After our first visit, we left Kahungunu with full hearts (and puku!), inspired by their resilience, and knowing we had done what we could at that time and that our work is valued and important to our iwi.

Getting down to the nitty and very gritty

Following on from February, we went up again in early March. We found there had already been so much progress at our various marae. We were joined by Dean Whiting from Pouhere Taonga Heritage New Zealand and Jamie Metzger from National Services Te Paerangi, and people were pretty excited to hear we were in town so it was very busy and varied.

Amber and Dean Whiting armed with tyvek, signing in at Waiohiki Golf Club. Note the sign in the back, “Be a warrior not a worrier”. Photo by Migoto Eria

The Waiohiki Golf Club, who still had no electricity several weeks after the cyclone, remained in clean-up mode and had asked for assistance with a carved poupou and a painted portrait.

Te Papa’s Painting Conservator Tijana Cvetkovic kindly offered her availability while Migoto visited. It turned out the precious portrait of Kurupo Tareha was unaffected and in the best possible place: up high, dry, and away from moisture. The Tareha whānau were happy to hear this news, too.

You’ll see in the image that Kurupo is holding golf clubs. These were brought out and shown to me, Kurupo’s original clubs. Photo by Migoto Eria

There was also a large Sandy Adsett tukutuku panel and a range of old framed portraits some with silt damage.

Tukutuku panel by Sandy Adsett. Photo by Migoto Eria

Recovering kōiwi tūpuna near Lake Oingo

We then headed to a flooded farm paddock near Lake Oingo. This was to do a surface collection of kōiwi tūpuna.

We had a very special group of whānau turn up to volunteer, and members of the New Zealand Police arrived to do this mahi under Amber’s guidance.

Karakia and briefing before entering the site, Omahu Marae. Photo by Migoto Eria

This was no easy task: the scale of the impact that the water had on the whenua was absolutely unimaginable. Amber carefully guided our whānau through this process and sought assistance from University of Otago’s Professor Hallie Buckley.

It was inspiring to witness a couple of our young volunteer whānau who learned to identify specific kōiwi by sight – by the time we’d seen a few – and could compare tibias and femurs.

We have no other words to describe this experience, but it was a real privilege to be able to work alongside our whānau with their tūpuna on their whenua. Nui te aroha ki a Natasha, te whānau Hanara me ngā whānau o Omahu i tae mai ki te āwhina. (Much love to Natasha, the Hanara family, and the Omahu families who came to help.)

Moteo Marae, Puketapu

Moteo Marae in Puketapu was our next call, just down the road from Omahu. They’d already put in a lot of hard mahi cleaning up, so we turned up to a very clean whare with all their items inside shipping containers.

Dean assessed the exterior poupou, and they showed us their tukutuku panels which were stored away.

Dean Whiting inspecting the amo and poupou of their wharenui, Rangimarie, at Moteo Marae. Photo by Migoto Eria
Dean Whiting, Papara Carroll, Beverly Kemp-Harmer, Charlotte Baker, and Migoto Eria. Photo by Te Taiwhenua o te Whanganui a Orotu

Tangoio Marae

Tangoio Marae, between Napier and Wairoa, had finally given the green light to start the deinstall of their poupou and tukutuku from their whare Punanga te Wao.

It was another true privilege to work alongside a select few, and to work intimately with their taonga. We admired the care and precision of our two pakeke aunties, Elaine and Poppy, and appreciated the energy, humour, and song choices by our two rangatahi. It was a great combination of people.

There was a lot of careful dry brushing, gentle vacuuming, and exposure to the Hawke’s Bay sun to kill the mould that had started to grow due to the moisture. Thanks to Rangi Te Kanawa for the advice on the mould, and we had more than enough sun – although it was closely followed by rain later on.

Aunty Elaine and Aunty Poppy brushing silt and dust off tukutuku panels. Photo by Migoto Eria

“Does that mean if we clean our taonga that we can keep them?” asked Aunty Elaine. She had a few important stories to tell; she was part of the team who made and originally installed these tukutuku panels. She is a living example of taonga tuku iho, clearly manifested in her kōrero and mahi at this time.

Systems and charts

Uncle Joe Taylor had arranged and printed the names, corresponding poupou, and kōrero onto laminated charts. This helped to advance the process to form a numbering system and to develop new charts to record the tukutuku panels. For example, E1TT means ʻEast wall, number 1, Tukutuku’.

Natasha and her mum Thursday recording and creating tags for each taonga. An orange sticker on a tag means East wall – orange like the sun. 🌞 
The felt marker print on the table says, Extremely important whanau please don’t remove anything from this table, thank you Uncle Joe”. Photo by Migoto Eria

Jamie recognised the constant juxtaposition of the unaffected areas against the destruction in the background. This is consistent from when we visited in February, but now with more hope and determination to recover.

Cleaned tukutuku in the face of the destruction beyond. Photo by Migoto Eria

Help from all sides

Te Taiwhenua o te Whanganui a Orotu is the mandated iwi authority for Ahuriri Napier and look after all the marae we’ve been supporting. They posted a live kōrero of us on their Facebook page:

Ngā mihi ki a Tania, ki a Kare Wiki hoki.

It’s also been beneficial working alongside Pouhere Taonga Heritage New Zealand to streamline our mahi as well, and National Library’s contribution of a stack of archival boxes for us to take to Taiwhenua was hugely appreciated.

We caught up with ex-museum colleagues from Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation who were as shovel-ready as we were at Waiohiki, and our conservators were quick to respond with advice to give to our iwi. Ngā mihi aroha nui ki a Rose Evans, Vicki-Anne Heikell, and Rangi Te Kanawa.

Otago University’s professor Hallie Buckley has had her team on stand-by to offer forensic support in relation to the devastation that has occurred to many urupā across the rohe.

Thanks to MTG Hawke’s Bay for the koha of boxes to our iwi. Despite the fact they have been directly impacted, they too have been working hard on logistics and welfare of the community.

Our cohesive approach has made it so much easier for everyone.

Mana taonga

We have been told by our Kahungunu iwi that our work is valued and important, and we feel reassured that the knowledge we share is not only put to good use but empowers our people to be independent.

We appreciate Te Papa supporting us to do this mahi – the least we could do was respond to their requests and turn up to tautoko. Although they have their work cut out, our contribution is mana taonga in action: supporting and empowering our iwi as kaitiaki of their taonga.

Big thanks to Victoria Esson and the NSTP team: our operations base with Jamie Metzger at the helm catching every floating onion that flooded her way morning, noon, or late night. We would not have been this awesome without you. He toa takitini!

An onion-threaded fence, kilometres long. Above it, you can see the water level marked on the trees. Photo by Migoto Eria

A long wet and dusty road ahead, may we continue to be inspired by the resilience of our iwi.


  1. Loved your post but am puzzled – and visually distracted – by the underlining of some te reo words and not others. Can you please explain?

    1. Kia ora Ann,

      Thank you for your comment. The underlined words are where there is a gloss definition. If you click or tap on the underlined word, you will see a pop-up with the word defined in English and sometimes an option to hear it pronounced. It only appears on the first instance of the word.

      Ngā mihi,

      Digital Channels Team

  2. Thank you Te Papa for allowing Kahungunu whanau to return and to advise and assist in the mahi for the recovery of their taonga. In the past I had a brief connection to the plan to restore the taonga from the Hukarere Kura Chapel that sadly ceased with the passing of Parekura Horomia and since February 14th I have had many thoughts as to the status of their beautiful taonga. May Life Be Kind To You All on your mission.

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