Tūwharetoa dispute 'whakapapa' albums' TradeMe sale

updated By Taroi Black

Whakapapa albums which are believed to belong to Ngāti Tūwharetoa have now been taken down from a TradeMe account.  The collection's cultural significance is being disputed.

The Māori Council has suggested that TradeMe get cultural advice regarding the sale of Māori tāonga and put a blanket moratorium of those objects on their website until a policy and procedure has been refined. 

In addition, the council are "prepared" to set a precedence in the courts to ensure TradeMe are doing the right thing.

Māori lawyer Mathew Tukaki says the government should adopt the same legislation Australia has for their indigenous people, photos and names of the deceased cannot be displayed, publicised or sold.

“TradeMe need to enforce their policies around the cultural mis-appropriation of both Māori artifacts, Māori tāonga and also Māori identity.  So, we could wrap this all up by simply saying it's identity theft at its worst.”

TradeMe told Te Ao Māori News they take direction from the law (the Protected Objects Act) and the very particular rules around collectors and the trading of tāonga-tūturu as set out by the Ministry for Culture & Heritage.

Tukaki says, “The message of the Māori Council to TradeMe is to open up your email because today you received a letter from me saying cease and desist.  Not just this one sale but all practices relating to all Māori culture and Māori identity.”

The Kotahitanga o Tūwharetoa chair Wiari Rauhina will meet with the seller, who has the books in his possession this week but disagrees with TradeMe policy to allow family information displayed on the "auction website internet".

“I don't agree with TradeMe policies.  We had family members who could identify their ancestors in that Whakapapa book.”

The albums were taken down by the seller due to a barrage of complaints.

“I personally think that my whakapapa is my personal business.  If it is to be shared to whoever then that means the law allows whakapapa to be public,” Rauhina says.

Ngāti Rangi iwi chair Che Wilson supports Ngāti Tūwharetoa as the auction website allowed eight pages of tīpuna names be displayed on the internet without iwi permission.  The highest bid was $515.00 and had 58 bids.

“If the book holds relevance then it’s considered a tāonga.  So no doubt that book holds a lot of cultural and historic significance to Tūwharetoa,” Wilson says.

The seller, who remains anonymous, told Te Ao Māori News he has no concern in displaying of Māori names as from a western culture perspective, it does not matter.

Tukaki says, “We have this issue with the NZ National Archives from the Alexander Turnbull Library with the content of Television NZ Māori archives.  Who actually owns what is a question we haven't answered.”

While the whakapapa books are still in possession of the TradeMe seller, it's hoped they will return to iwi descendants soon.