Taonga Māori in the British Museum

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Friday 8 July 2011
Ron Brownson

Today is the last day of Māori Language Week and I could not let my 101st blog be about anything other than one of the most important books published in New Zealand during 2011.

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Taonga Māori in the British Museum is an emblem of scholarship that every reader of this spectacular book should be inspired by. 

First published by the British Museum in 2010, and now republished by Te Papa Press, this book is a comprehensive collection catalogue prepared by Dorota Starzecka, Roger Neich and Mick Prendergrast. [ISBN 978 1 877385 76 6] 

There is no comparable volume presenting Taonga Māori held in any other museum, let alone New Zealand museum. As such, the book is a tremendous challenge to local curators to work on a subsequent volume based on New Zealand collections. For a start, I would suggest publishing the Taonga Māori held by Te Papa or Auckland Museum. 

This book will transform what we know about taonga not only because it gives visual access to the British Museum’s renowned collection, it has a catalogue that contains knowledge that has hitherto been inaccessible. All of the key pieces are illustrated with outstanding black and white plates and the colour plates are breathtaking. 

From the author’s foreword: ‘This catalogue…contains all the information about the objects known to the authors at the time of writing.’ 

What a deal of new information this book contains! Professor Roger Neich has attributed many of the taonga to place and date. When he knows it, he also names tribe and, sometimes, the carver. As always with any project associated with Roger, the scholarship is exemplary. David Simmons’s wonderful knowledge is also included, which in so many cases, is complementary to Roger’s. Mick Prendergrast’s unequalled knowledge of the Māori textiles at the British Museum has ensured that the book gains much from his specialist knowledge. 

This is a book that I am going to learn from every single week. I am going to start studying the textiles first. 

Footnote: 
When will we see a Taonga Māori textiles catalogue prepared by Dr Patricia Te Arepo, the doyenne of Maori textile scholarship. Patricia’s enthralling lectures are the fruit of her profoundly gifted and inspirational research. She is one of my favourite scholars anywhere!