The Body of the People

Author: Sasha Greig, Front of House Team Leader

On Wednesday last week about 15 Council employees, including my fellow host Lucy and I were inducted into the Hutt City Council.

Painting by Rani

Painting by Rani

The Mayor and all the heads of department took time out of their day to come and explain their roles and how Hutt City Council works. It’s an event that made me feel very welcome. As part of the induction day we the new staff are honored with a powhiri that is held onsite at The Dowse and performed in front of the pataka, Nuku Tewhatewha.

As I have been working at The Dowse for two months now, I was familiar with the pataka and had picked up a bit of knowledge about its history and significance but it was not until the powhiri that it really hit home how powerful a taonga the pataka is and how honoured and privileged I was to be welcomed in a formal Māori ceremony in front of Nuku Tewhatewha. Now, to fully understand the significance of Nuku Tewhatewha you do need to know the history of the Kīngitanga movement and why it was made. I'm going to let Lucy explain in more depth the history and symbology, but I will leave you with what I think Nuku Tewhatewha represents to me, 160 years after it was built, and why it is so important to preserve the pataka. Nuku Tewhatewha is the embodiment of a prayer for all people and all generations to live in peace and prosperity together for now and forever. Wow!!!!

Nuku Tewhatewha is the heart of The Dowse. Having lived in our building for 40 years, it remains the most significant taonga in our care.

Nuku Tewhatewha is presented as a tohu of the creative, forward-looking response to change, characterising much of Māori history. Carved in 1856 in Naenae, Nuku Tewhatewha is a pataka, a storehouse, which were traditionally used to keep food. However this particular pataka was built for an entirely different purpose. Chief Wi Tako Ngātata commissioned Nuku Tewhatewha as a sign of support for Kīngitanga, also known as the Māori King Movement. In the early 1850s, a movement to establish a Māori King developed in response to the rapid loss of Māori land to the British Government and colonists. It was to establish a symbolic role similar in status to that of the monarch.

There were seven pataka carved in support of the movement in the North Island, and they were known as ‘Pillars of the Kingdom’. Nuku Tewhatewha is the only one that remains.

Nuku Tewhatewha was a store house for Wi Tako’s dreams. What was carved into the building resonated with his aspirations for the people of Aotearoa.

At the top there stands a figure surveying over the land and praying for peace. To the left, a figure holds their stomach acknowledging the conquering of trepidation with bravery. To the right, a figure holds their hand over their heart, showing the importance and power of love. Along the paepae there are 2 maihi who are protectors, and 2 koruru, one of which is holding a fork and the other holding water, showing the influence of western culture in the carving.

Aligning with the human body, like you and I, Nuku Tewhatewha has legs to stand on, arms to embrace, hands and fingers to touch, a spine to stand strong, ribs for protection and a heart to love.

The next time you visit The Dowse, make sure to spend time with Nuku Tewhatewha. Its presence in the space is powerful, marking not only radical and political change within New Zealand history, but a spiritual significance that radiates throughout the gallery.


Lucy & Rani
Front of House Hosts

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