A PART of Whakatohea history returned home to Opotiki after decades of being held in a private collection.

Waiata filled the top floor of the Opotiki Museum while Whakatohea whanau observed, felt and experienced a mere pounamu that briefly returned home last week.

Surrounded by other Whakatohea artefacts and physical history, the taonga was welcomed back with a powhiri, karakia, waiata and physical touch on Tuesday, April 9, before it was transported to Te Papa Museum.

The taonga, in a traditional spatulate shape, has a swollen butt knob pierced by a large diameter off-centre hourglass hole. With it is an associated framed whakapapa, listing 11 owners.

The mere pounamu was part of Hannah Martha Dillion’s private collection, the Carkeek Collection.

The Ngati Raukawa woman died in 1963 and her grand-nephew was selling the collection, consisting of 17 pieces through auction.

The auction was conducted by Auckland fine art and antique auctioneers and appraisers, Cordy’s.

Whakatohea Maori Trust Board chief executive officer Dickie Farrar said she was notified of the mere pounamu days before the March 26, 2019 auction.

With its whakapapa to Whakatohea, Mrs Farrar was told to see it in person before kaumatua confirmed it originated from the area, dating back to the early 1800s, a Cordy’s historian said.

The whakapapa listed the pounamu’s 11 owners from Muriwai to Aporotanga and Te Awanui.

At the bottom of the list, an inscription says “Aporotanga paid it to Te Awanui as [crossed out: compens] utu for the great fight that took place between the Arawas & the Ngatiawas at Te Awateatua [possibly Te-Awa-o-te-Atua Pa or river in the Bay of Plenty].” The fight afterwards known as the Waikaukau.

Mrs Farrah said the taonga was a part of Whakatohea history going back to 1831.

“Te Aporotanga is the name that has been given to the taonga by Te Riaki Amoamo, a direct descendent of Te Awanui, the son of Te Aporotanga, a Whakatohea chief decent and was known for his prowess with weaponry”.

Mr Amoamo travelled with the mere pounamu.

With its confirmation of belonging to the area, Whakatohea asked for assistance from Te Papa Museum to help understand the process of acquiring the taonga, given the very short timeframe they had before the taonga went to auction.

The taonga was purchased for $12,500.

“Whakatohea understand that this is an opportunity for the taonga to be cared for by Te Papa and it gives our Whakatohea people around the country an opportunity to see it first-hand. In the future we may want to have our own whare taonga.

“What was important to Whakatohea is that it came home and is not lost for another 100 years in private ownership,” Mrs Farrah said.

Te Papa Museum head of matauranga Maori Puawai Cairns said, “Te Papa felt privileged that we could purchase this mere pounamu with the endorsement of Te Whakatohea. It is a taonga that we considered was more than fitting for the national collection”.

Ms Cairns said she was not aware how the taonga come into Ms Dillion’s possession but was excited about the research possibilities that come with the mere pounamu.

“Finding mere pounamu with provenance and history like this are exceptionally rare, as many mere pounamu purchased on the open market have been separated from their histories and consequently their people.”

Cordy’s antiques and art director Andrew Grigg said of the 11 Maori items in the collection, the mere pounamu stood out.

“Provenance is something we rarely have, and this item had an amazing heritage to one tribal area. I must say we were delighted that we were able, with the permission of our vendors, to reunite this mere pounamu with its iwi.

“It is incredibly rare for us to negotiate the sale of an item outside of auction process, but in this case, it was the right thing to do.”

The collection also included two Maori portraits by an unknown artist whose initials were MJ, together with four other items from the Pacific region.

It also included whale bone patu (Maori weapon), heru (ornamental comb), tiki, tewhatewha (long-handled Maori weapon), a hand cut slab of pounamu and other items from around the world.