He Awa Ora - Living River Exhibition

He Awa Ora - Living River

A major new exhibition He Awa Ora – Living River has opened at the Whanganui Regional Museum, showcasing ancient and new taonga that tell the story of Te Awa Tupua, the Whanganui River and its people.

It was a beautiful morning on Monday 27 June as many gathered together at dawn for an opening karakia to officially open the unique exhibition.

Te Awa Tupua, together with the many waterways that flow in and around, is considered a supernatural tupuna and a revered ancestor both spiritual and physical.

It supports and sustains the life and natural resources within the Whanganui River and the health and well-being of the iwi, hapū, and other communities of the river.

The river is known as a sacred body, a food source, a battleground, a place of healing and prayer, a playground, and a connector of people, from the mountains to the sea.

In a groundbreaking initiative in 2017, the Whanganui River became the first waterway in the world to be given legal personhood, supported by a legal framework that recognises the river as its own person.

Descendants, river communities, interest groups, local and central government all have a responsibility to work together to ensure the river can continue to thrive and provide life for future generations.

The idea for the exhibition was sparked by Museum visitors from Whanganui, around Aotearoa and overseas, who were curious about the status of the Awa as a person and interested to learn about it.

Exhibition Project Manager, Libby Sharpe says a consistent feature of the enquiries indicated that people were excited by the new concept.

Following an iwi-led process of consultation, research and development, the exhibition encompasses the past, the present and the future.

The Awa and iwi feature in a narrative supported by taonga Māori, drawing on the collection in the Museum.

The story is described by Whanganui iwi, and guided by Exhibition Curator, Dr Rāwiri Tinirau, “A unique aspect of He Awa Ora is that the voices of the Awa and taonga speak through the text labels, descriptions and narratives, and this has been achieved through ongoing consultation with Te Pou Tupua – the human face and voice for Te Awa Tupua – as well as whānau and hapū associated with the taonga being displayed. Ngā Tāngata Tiaki o Whanganui, the strategic partner for this exhibition, have provided some of the taonga on display from its own archive. Te Atawhai o Te Ao, who hold the Pou Rauhī role, have conducted much of the research, alongside Museum staff.”

In close collaboration with Whanganui iwi and hapū, local company Dalgleish Architects have completed the design work including a specially created typeface, and visuals incorporated into the flooring of the exhibition space.

These have been inspired by design elements evident in Whanganui carving, painting, and embroidery.

The exhibition will run for a year after which some moveable elements of the display will travel to several different sites throughout the Te Awa Tupua region.

Whanganui Museum Director, Dr Bronwyn Labrum is excited to have commissioned the innovative presentation, “We are honoured and humbled to have the support and participation of Whanganui iwi to share their taonga and tell their important stories. This is one of the first outcomes from the appointment of a Pou Rauhī and it is only a taste of what is to come as we focus on working with iwi to better reflect the bicultural partnership at the heart of the Museum.”

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