‘Take me away… In search of original dwelling,’ aims to explain the significance of the origin of Maori whare and Samoan fale. We are given many examples of these “indigenous houses” (Engels- Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 45) being taken away from their site of origin to be internationally “exhibited, reassembled as curios, circulated or put into storage in museums” (Engels- Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 43). The idea of these buildings giving their Western viewers “renewal by returning to origins” (Engels- Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 42), and the concept of paradise through these buildings is emphasised. Often taken without complete consent or kept without giving respect to the spirituality and history of the building and its place of origin, the desire for these buildings overseas represents a “yearning for authenticity and paradise” (Engels- Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 45), “taken to fill a perceived gap resulting from an erosion of meaning in the West” Engels- Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 43). This reading explains the historical relationship between Maori whare and Samoan fale and the West, and finishes by explaining the kind of engagement that needs to become normal for a positive relationship to exist, where “the downsides of tourism… environmental destruction, negative trade balances, and the continued political and economic vulnerability of Pasifika nations” (Engels- Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 51) are recognised.
Hinemihi is a whare that was built in 1881 in the central North Island (Sully, Raymond and Hoete 210). Though its carvings and designs have innate significance, Hinemihi’s history reveals wider issues surrounding colonisation and exploitation.
Maori meeting houses are considered the “focal point for culturally important activities” (Higgins and Moorfield 73), and traditionally belong to iwi (tribes). Hinemihi was designed to be a “public place where important decisions were made, visitors entertained, genealogies affirmed, relationships confirmed, births and marriages celebrated and the dead mourned” (Sully, Raymond and Hoete 210), and belonged to the Ngati Tuwharetoa iwi. As well as being a practical place, the marae is also a connection point to ancestors and holds great mana. Many traditional whare “are named in honour of an ancestor from that people’s hapū” (Higgins and Moorfield 74), and “embody the living ancestors of their iwi” (Sully, Raymond and Hoete 210). Hinemihi is therefore considered a ‘she’; a living being. This presence of mana tangata (power from the people/ancestors) makes entering the whare a “rebirth into the kin group, into the family” (Shirres 54). Mana whenua (power from the land) is also important as the ground that beneath a marae is considered a link to ancestors, and “people going home speak of going to meet their bones” (Shirres 56). The grounding of the whare is significant in the recognition of history and connection between living and dead.
Hinehimi’s past is unlike most other marae. In 1886, the eruption of Mount Tarawera buried its village of origin, killing all inhabitants except some 50 who took shelter in Hinimihi. Although this event “forced the surviving inhabitants of Te Wairoa to relocate” (Sully, Raymond and Hoete 210), the significance of Hinemihi protecting those people was never forgotten. In 1892, Lord Onslow visited New Zealand and purchased Hinemihi for 50 pounds as a souvenir of his time spent, the equivalent of around $9000 in current New Zealand currency (Sully, Raymond and Hoete 210). The whare was split into 23 pieces and shipped to Clandon Park (Onslow’s British estate), where it was erected and still stands in the estate’s garden (Engels-Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 44).
The lack of comprehensive documentation about the trade and the small payment speaks of the time and relationship between Māori and European then. Hinemihi represented the exotic, authentic, paradisiacal Māori culture to Onslow, and was “taken to fill a perceived gap resulting from an erosion of meaning in the West” (Engels-Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 43). The fact that Hinemihi was taken away from her land and people suggests a lack of understanding and respect towards Māori people and traditions- Onslow and his people saw “victims and tokens instead of people” (Indigenous Action 2) from whom he could take things from without consequence.
Being built nearly 30 years after most other marae, Hinemihi’s later carvings reflect the hybridity of Māori and Western culture that was occurring through colonisation at the time. The ancestors pictured in the whare’s carvings are wearing “bowler hats and Victorian shoes”, and despite being built for traditional reasons, Hinemihi was also built to be “a venue to entertain visitors during the early days of New Zealand tourism” (Engels-Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 44). Hinimihi therefore is a marae that represents the grassroots dual Western and Māori culture. There’s an interesting comparison to be made between the cross-cultural design of Hinemihi, and the disrespectful actions of Onslow towards her people. It is ironic that the very marae that stands for unity was taken from its site of origin as a token souvenir.
Now she stands in Clandon park (a tourist destination) so “Hinemihi thus continues her connection with the industry” (Engels-Schwarzpaul and Wikitera 44). This is a positive result as the living spirit of a marae must be “kept warm” by having people visiting. A heritage conservation trust has been formed to foster an understanding of Hinemihi as an “object-centred network of social relationships,” that can contribute to “an emerging British- Māori identity” (Sully, Raymond and Hoete 211), rather than just a building. It is hard to come to a conclusion as to whether Hinemihi should be returned to its land/ its “roots in the soil” (Shirres 54) in New Zealand or stay in Clandon Park as a reminder of our history and relationship with Britain. What is known is that any discourse surrounding Hinemihi needs to consider more than the physical artistry and design of the building, as to ignore her mana, spirituality and ancestry is to dismiss Māori tikanga.
Burton Brothers. An unidentified Maori group in front of the Hinemihi meeting house at Te Wairoa in the 1880s. 1880’s, Photograph, Alexander Turnbull Library, http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22697676
Engels- Schwarzpaul, A.-Chr. and Wikitera, Keri-Anne. “Take me away… In search of original dwelling,” Interstices: A Journal of Architecture and Related Arts, vol 10, 2009, pp. 41-54.
Higgins, Rawinia and Moorfield, John C. “Ngā tikanga o te marae- Marae Practices,” Ki te Whaiao: An Introduction to Māori Culture and Society, Pearson Education New Zealand Limited, 2004, pp. 73-84.
Indigenous Action. “Accomplices not Allies- Abolishing the Ally Industrial Complex, An Indigenous Perspective,” Indigenous Action, Feb 2014, pp. 1-10, http://www.indigenousaction.org/accomplices-not-allies-abolishing-the-ally-industrial-complex/
Shirres, M. “Mana and the Human Person,” Te Tangata, Accent Publications, 1997, pp. 53-61.
Sully, Dean, Raymond, Rosanna and Hoete, Anthony. “Locating Hinemihi’s People,” Journal of Material Culture, col 19, 2014, pp. 210-229.