I can't understand why all of the sacred taonga of maori are held in museums and universities rather than with the people they belong to. The european concept of putting everything away and honouring the past that way is different to the maori way of honouring the past. And the maori worldview has not even been considered. All of the taonga has a whakapapa which connects to the people. Each of the taonga has a lifeforce or mauri that is connected to the people. The people are still here. They are not forgotten footnotes in history. The people still exist and they should be given their sacred taonga back. I fully understand the impulse to store away treasures, and put them in special houses and make them available only really to the few: the people who study, who inspect. But that way is not right for these living taonga. Perhaps the best way to counter the various objections that invariably will occur is to talk about how it would be if the taonga were given back.
Imagine the ceremonies of welcome when the taonga return home. It will be a time of rejoicing and happyness and that has to be good for everyone in the current climate. It may be that some iwi will want to create special houses for their taonga. They may wish for people to still visit them. They could create job opportunites by building eco-cultural tourism. Explaining their stories to visitors and showing their taonga where appropriate. They could build visitor centres, with kai and accomodation, all done the maori way. Tangata whenua would control what happens, but of course all sections of our society would benefit.
Others may wish their taonga to remain where they currently are. Tangata whenua would negotiate with the current holders of taonga and work out the solutions.
Mana would be enhanced as sacred taonga are returned. Part of mana is pride, self belief, self esteem. We don't want our kids to go to gangs, or drugs, or worse and they will if they don't have a sense of self esteem. The way to build self esteem is through community, a sense of belonging. Returning the sacred taonga increases the attraction of the iwi, the hapu, the whanau. As these strengthen, the attraction ripples out and attracts others. As self esteem for a community increases it attracts others and their self esteem increases too.
IMO maori derive some parts of their mana from dsplays. Abundance is a sign of strong mana. Sharing and offering taonga for others to appreciate is mana building. Maori would share their taonga with everyone, but under their terms. It would probably mean more people would see and appreciate them because they would be seen in context, within a living culture – what better way to experience and learn. Maori are inclusive not exclusive.
The houses of learning could still have access to whatever they want as long as the owners agree. But think about this, maori are not dead and gone. Maori are still here. The decendents of the original owners of all of the taonga in museums and universities are all around us, now. Why is it considered correct to hold sacred taonga imprisoned, when their owners and creators are alive and well.
I'm not talking about an overnight change but a planned approach with definate timelines, that maori agree to. And I realise that there may be some areas of difficulty, such as determining where a taonga came from and where they should go, fragile items, large items such as meeting houses, training and developing infrastructure to support runanga in the care of taonga and so on. But think of the benefits. The taonga home with their people. A cultural tsunami of pride and joy and inclusiveness. A healing. A way to move forward together. Jobs, community building, tourism, construction, carving and so on and so on.
Whatever we do it has to be better than what is happening now, close your eyes, can't you hear their distant cries, they want to go home.