Esteemed Hei Tiki O Merenako taonga returns home

2 May 2024

A significant pounamu named Hei Tiki O Merenako has been returned to its whanau after being in Cawthron’s guardianship for more than six decades.

Hei Tiki O Merenako became part of a collection owned by former Nelson school teacher Mr Frederick Knapp, who bequeathed his Māori and Pacific Island artefacts collection to Cawthron Institute in 1945.

Cawthron maintained custody and care of Merenako until 2008 when Cawthron and the whanau of Hei Tiki O Merenako, the Park whanau, agreed that the day-to-day care and guardianship of Merenako would be provided by the Tasman Bays Heritage Trust as kaitiaki.

However, in further recognition of the special significance of Merenako to the Park whanau as a taonga, Cawthron has since returned legal ownership of, and title to, Merenako. Under a Deed of Transfer signed in 2023, Merenako was returned and vested in the traditional collective ownership of the Park whanau.

An emotional ceremony to mark the return of Hei Tiki O Merenako to her whanau was held in April 2024 at Te Awhina marae in Motueka.

John Palmer, Chair of the Cawthron Institute Trust Board, said Merenako’s journey has been interesting as she has moved from place to place and the Board is delighted that she has returned home to the Park whanau.

Hei Tiki O Merenako gained her name from an esteemed female elder, Merenako Pene, of Te Atiawa, who came to the Motueka region in the early 1800s. Merenako was a pioneer known for her leadership and strength of character and she cared deeply for her land and her people and went to great lengths to protect them. Merenako was thought to be well over the age of 100 when she died in 1888.

Image: Cawthron Institute. Representatives of Cawthron Institute and the Park whanau at Te Awhina marae in Motueka.

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