NZ at Frankfurt: In front of the scenes at the museum

By Guy Somerset In Listening In

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Toni Stewart, Raimana Anaru, Horowai Crawford

“Sure we made the building. Our ancestors carved it. But you looked after it and you maintained it. It’s 100 years old and still pretty good looking.” That was Joe Malcolm, elder of Rotorua iwi Te Arawa, speaking earlier today – it’s still Sunday here in Germany – at the opening of the newly restored Rauru meeting house and accompanying exhibition Te Ara: Maori Pathways of Leadership at the Museum fur Volkerkunde (ie Museum of Ethnology) in Hamburg. 

I’ll have to take Malcolm’s word for it that the meeting house is still pretty good looking – indeed better looking than ever after its restoration (about which you can read more here, here and if you’re a German speaker here) – because the queues to see it were so long I didn’t get a chance to do so.

I was lucky to find a spot in the magnificent marble entrance area of the museum for the opening ceremony itself, at which Malcolm was speaking. The place was heaving with the good people of Hamburg (Hamburgers?), who stood patiently and frequently delightedly in crammed conditions through nearly an hour’s worth of speeches that must have seemed long even to the several generations of Maori who’d travelled over for the opening and were used to the speeches of a marae. More people still were near the entrance of the museum hoping to catch a glimpse.

The longest speech – by his own admission – came from museum director Professor Dr Wulf Kopke, a wonderfully moustachioed figure who was charm incarnate, and in looks and mischievous demeanour put one in mind of a German Terry-Thomas (if you can envisage such a thing).

After the speeches – which were moving enough – came the singing – which was even more so, and was received rapturously by the crowd.

You can hear a couple of examples here.

Then it was noon and the day was afoot, featuring lectures, poets Glenn Colquhoun, Chris Price and Hinemoana Baker from the Transit of Venus project (about which more in the next few days), Kiwi singer-songwriter Nick Hopepa (no, me neither, but he acquitted himself well entertaining cafe-goers) and kapa haka,

It was all a veritable home from home – and any unease one might feel at being under the microscope of ethnological study was offset by the integrity of the museum and the open-hearted curiosity of the crowd. (Besides, I’m a Brit, so probably don’t have a right to feel uneasy.)

One particularly sweet moment was seeing a young boy bashfully ask a Maori woman in her feather cloak if he could have his photograph taken with her. He could – and was also rewarded with a hongi.

You’ll have to forgive me for asking Malcolm and exhibition co-curator Paul Tapsell, Professor of Maori Studies at the University of Otago, the same opening question – I really was quite overcome. Although not so overcome not to notice this.

For those of you wanting to know more about how the meeting house came to be in Hamburg in the first place, there is this.

And finally, summing up the day for me, is this picture I took. I don’t know who the guy on the right is, but for this day at least he was to one side.


Guy Somerset is in Germany to cover the Frankfurt Book Fair courtesy of the Goethe-Institut.

8th October, 2012 Leave a Comment

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