Month: June 2018

Te Whakaokiokinga – “Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them …”

The Whanganui Regional Museum (WRM) opened to the public in 1895 and since then,= hundreds of thousands of taonga (treasures) from all cultures have been presented to be looked after in perpetuity for the whole rohe (region). But for the contents of one small room in our Museum, eternal care is the opposite of what we are wishing to achieve.

Many museums around the world have kōiwi tangata (skeletal human remains). Our Museum is no different. These tūpuna (ancestors) were gathered by various means over the last century or so. They may have eroded from overhangs or dunes, they may have been accidental finds during land developments, from archaeological excavations, from trading and also from being consciously dug out of urupā (graves) by looters looking for taonga to steal.

Our late Museum Kaumātua (elders), Henry Bennett and Matiu Mareikura, resolved that all tūpuna would be returned to their people, or buried here if no identifying information was available. Unfortunately, they both died in 1998 before the Museum had begun repatriation.

In 2006 Ngāti Apa led the Museum’s first repatriation after they were made aware that there were tūpuna from their rohe. Eleven tūpuna were returned for reburial at Parawanui in Manawatū, 49 years after they were deposited in the Museum.

In 2010 the request to bury all kōiwi tangata was again taken to the Museum’s governing bodies by the Museums new Kaitiaki Taonga Māori. She had previously helped her iwi of Ngāti Rangitāne ki Te Wairau repatriate 56 tūpuna from Canterbury Museum back to Te Wairau (by Blenheim), after 70 years of continually petitioning that institute. She wanted to ensure that repatriation of tūpuna held at WRM would not include any of the trauma that Rangitāne had experienced.

1. Ceremony of repatriation

 Spending time with kōiwi before re-interment, January 2016.

Guided by iwi, and funded by Te Puni Kōkiri, a strategy was developed, which included Te Whakaokiokinga, our Human Remains Repatriation Policy. Our policy has major points of differences: actively seeking to repatriate or bury all tūpuna, utilising tikanga (protocols) Whanganui, and repatriating all taonga robbed from graves, back to their respective hapū and iwi.

In January 2016 over 80 individuals were buried at Aramoho Cemetery after a decision was made to reinter kōiwi from Whanganui, and also those with no known background. Most were Māori, but there were also some of European and Indian origin. Te Papa and Cleveland Funeral Home also brought remains from Whanganui for this mass burial. The plots were sponsored by Ngāti Tūpoho and Cleveland Funeral Home.

In March 2018, a female tupuna was repatriated. She and her living entourage of mainly kaumātua were welcomed onto Rānana Marae before taking the final journey back to Tawhitinui (on the opposite bank upstream of Rānana), 68 years after she was taken.

Seven of our longest residing tūpuna returned home to the Bay of Islands in April. They had arrived here in 1898. Five Museum staff and board members were supported by the local Kaumātua Kaunihera and whānau from Ngāti Hinemanu and Ngāti Paki of Otaihape (Taihape) to return these tūpuna home. They were hosted by Ngāti Manu of Kāretu Marae, near Kawakawa, in what all described as a humbling, moving and life-changing experience.

2. Carrying tupuna from Museum

 Supportive hands carry kōiwi from the Museum for re-interment, January 2016.

This significant work is only achievable because of support received from some wonderful people. Marty and Marilynn Vreede sponsored hundreds of dollars’ worth of beautiful harakeke paper to help “dress” the burial boxes, kaumātua from near and far have supported this endeavor, and our spiritual protection and guidance has been provided by Te Whakataumatatanga Mareikura, Marie Waretini and our stalwart kaumātua, John Maihi.

No matter how or why kōiwi, or any human remains, arrived at any museum in the world, no matter whether or not we know who they are or where they are from, there is no denying that this is somebody’s son or daughter. No-one ever laid their parent, grandparent, grandchild or friend to rest in the hope that they would one day be disturbed to end up on display somewhere or in a box on a shelf. No matter which culture you belong to, respect for the dead, burial rites and rest is a given.

We may not have played a part in how they arrived here, but we can be part of the resolution to grant them eternal rest.

 

Āwhina Twomey is Kaitiaki Taonga Māori and Kaiwhakaako at the Whanganui Regional Museum

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Is handwriting a lost art?

Writing may arguably be one of the most important inventions of humankind. For centuries writing was a means for humans to record history, ideas and discoveries, and to communicate with each other.

Thought to have originated in Mesopotamia around 3,200 BC, writing has undergone a mass of technological development to get where it is today. Handwriting has been evident in many forms: inscribing with tools on stone, leaf, wood, wax, papyrus and parchment and in more recent times, on paper.

These days, people handwrite less and less. The arrival of the printing press in the mid-15th century meant multiples of transcriptions and books became easier to produce. Then the typewriter eliminated the need for composing everything by hand. In recent years the rapid development of computers and smartphones all but do away with the need to write by hand; instead we use texting, emailing and instant messaging. And that’s a pity.

1. Contract 1577

 Commercial contract dated 22 August 1577, written in fine black ink on high quality heavy parchment with three red wax seals attached on hanging strips. Written in English, the signatories are Laurence Robynson, Thomas Bell and Matthew Walker.
Ref: 1959.197.2

The Whanganui Regional Museum archives hold numerous examples of handwritten text, some as early as the 16th century, in the form of legal documents, mortgage papers, manuscripts, indentures, patents, diaries, letters, business records, cash books, autographs and personal papers. In delving into the pages of these beautifully kept records we can appreciate the art, skill and importance of hand-written text. Future generations are unlikely to stock museums with our dull digital printouts.

Why is the art of handwriting so important? Firstly, learning to write by hand is a vital component of literacy. There is evidence to suggest that more information is retained and expressed when putting pen to paper. Handwriting engages more sections of the brain than typing. Learning how to shape and link letters improves reading comprehension. Researchers have ascertained that students who hand-write their notes indeed learn more. Writing a word out, letter by letter, is a self-conscious process that requires a certain processing of information, which provides a deeper connection to thoughts than is acquired by using a keyboard. Handwriting can also increase creativity and improve memory.

2. Stewart journal 1843

 Excerpt from the field journal of Whanganui surveyor and engineer, J T Stewart, 1843.
Ref: 1805.388

Secondly, someone’s handwriting gives clues to their personality that cannot be assessed in digital text. The unique style and slope of individual letters, a flowing cursive and the expressive quality of an individually written word is something that we stand to lose. There is warmth and personality attached to a handwritten letter or note, a postcard sent home or daily diary entries.

Other than the ubiquitous handwritten shopping list, scrawled reminder note or obligatory form filling, how many of us use handwriting on a daily basis? When did any of us last write a handwritten letter to someone? Texts, emails and other forms of technical communication have taken over and caused us to neglect our penmanship. Technology has diluted our collective handwriting ability and there is a real possibility that the skill of hand-writing is dying out.

3. Oldknow letter 1789

This letter was written by H Oldknow from her school in Nottingham to her mother, in 1789. It starts with “Hon.d Madam” and ends, touchingly, with “I am / Madam / your most dutiful / and obedient Daughter”. Ref: 1966.22.1

Handwriting is unique. It has a tremendous expressive power, and more than that, handwritten text can be incredibly gorgeous. The physical act of writing takes time and can communicate that the writer cares about the content of the communication, and in turn the person intended to receive it. There is something special about sending or receiving a precious hand-written note or letter.

Pick up a pen. And write something.

Rachael Garland is the Events Coordinator at Whanganui Regional Museum.

Physiognomy – it’s written on your face

A small paper booklet held in the Museum’s archives offers an intriguing look into how some people once attempted to learn more about themselves. The title of the booklet is a mouthful: Physiognomical Chart of Character, with Illustrations of Temperaments, Facial Angles and Types of Faces, and Definitions of Mental Faculties, Together with the Explanation of Their Facial Indications. In short, the booklet covers the basics of physiognomy.

1. Physiognomical Chart

 Physiognomical Chart of Character given to Fred Allen in 1882. Ref: 2011.13.62

Physiognomy refers to the once popular practice of assessing someone’s personality based on their outward appearance. It was believed that a person’s inner character was revealed through their physical traits and could be read by deciphering the size, shape and placement of facial features on the head. Today it is known as pseudoscience and generally regarded as just a bit of fun.

Face-reading was an everyday practice in Ancient Greece and was common through to the middle ages, even earning a mention in an addition to The Canterbury Tales when a character is called out as a thief with the line, “I knowe wele by thy fisnamy, thy kynd it were to stele”.

It was dismissed by Leonardo da Vinci as having no scientific foundation, although he did believe the lines and creases on a person’s face could indicate their character, but it continued to be taught at English universities until King Henry VIII outlawed it as a vagabond’s crafty game.

Physiognomy began to increase in popularity again from the 17th century and peaked 200 years later, becoming a common subject in novels and artworks of the time. With doctors and philosophers giving it their professional backing, the police even used it to profile the appearance of criminals and warned officers to be aware of people with pointed heads, heavy jaws, receding brows and scant beards, as they were more likely to commit crimes.

New Zealand was not left out of this fad and several physiognomists journeyed here to offer lectures and consultations, including Oswald E Hugo who visited Whanganui in November 1882. His talks were attended by small but enthusiastic crowds.  Frederick Hanson Allen was one attendee, aged 18 at the time, and he received the booklet which contains the hand-written results of his consultation with Hugo.

2. Frederick Hanson Allen

 Frederick Hanson Allen in the 1880s. Ref: 2011.13.26

Fred received a low 4/10 for “memory of dates” but a high 8/10 for “memory of events”. He scored an average 6/10 for “love of life” but the high score of 8.5/10 for “sensual proclivities” came with a recommendation for restraint.

Fred was warned to “not give any thought to the other sex for several years to come”, but Hugo listed the set of features he should look for in a future bride which would indicate she had the right personality to balance his own. “ … dark hair and eyes with arched eyebrows and concave lashes, forehead full in the middle, nose straight or short, face short and broad, slim figure and rather tall, conical head”.

Fred took Hugo’s advice to wait, and was 29 when he married Ethel Elizabeth Barns in 1894, although we don’t know what she looked like.

Physiognomy fell out of favour by the early 20th century as science and technology advanced, although some programmers use physiognomical analysis in developing facial recognition software today.

 

Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.