Modern research continues to reveal secrets long held in uncatalogued documents and artefacts in rich archives. The centrepiece of this edition is the story of current research to identify which of three early Maori carvings is the wooden self-portrait of rangatira (chief) Hongi Hika carved from a fencepost at the farm of missionary Reverend Samuel Marsden in 1814 and shipped by Marsden to the Church Missionary Society Museum in London as part of a fund-raising travelling exhibition. It’s part of the fascinating lecture given by Brent Kerehona on his whanaunga family member Hongi Hika of the Ngāpuhi in conjunction with the Oceanic Art Society AGM held last November in Mosman, Sydney and reproduced in this edition of the OAS Journal.
Brent presented the results of his recent research into the historic journeys of Hongi Hika, first to Sydney in 1814 and then his voyage to England in 1820. Brent is spearheading the organisation of a number of events to be held in September and October 2020 in England, Australia and his native New Zealand to celebrate the bicentenary of this latter voyage half-way around the globe. He and his collaborators are also making a short film to accompany these bicentennial events.
Highlights of the artefacts presented during Brent’s lecture were definitely a luxurious cloak presented by Hongi to King George IV of England and the three busts believed to be of Hongi Hika that are fascinating pieces of Oceanic art and design. Brent has been fortunate to hold and examine all three of these busts, each located in a different country. They are regarded as the first likenesses or portraits done by the Maori of a living person. The three images are located today in three museums, at the Brighton Museum in the United Kingdom, in the Nicholson Museum moving to the Chau Chak Wing museum at the University of Sydney next year, and in the Auckland Museum. All three carved busts feature a very similar moko (Maori tattoo) and may be regarded as important artworks and taonga (Maori treasure).
While we know that one of these busts was carved by Hongi in Parramatta in October 2014, we don’t know which one; what Brent’s account tells us is the incredible story behind it; why it was made and for whom. The bust was an object that helped Hongi achieve his driving passion for revenge. It strengthened his relationship with the Reverend Samuel Marsden and the missionaries and aided in organizing his passage to England where he obtained the weapons that allowed him to exact his revenge on those who had ‘wronged’ his hapū and iwi years leading to what became known as the Musket Wars.
The korowai or cloak is also a particularly beautiful example with thousands of tassels made from woven flax tags. Further research is being undertaken involving master weavers into how this cloak was made.
More information on Brent’s bicentennial activities can be found at: www.hongishikoi.com