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    Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 25 June 2009 Referencing Hub media

    Taewa contributed to the wellbeing of early Māori in New Zealand. They are still valued by Māori today because they have been passed down through the generations from their ancestors. The historical and cultural value of taewa makes them a taonga – a treasure.

    Dr Nick Roskruge (Massey University): In a Māori context, the taonga – in a literal sense – means that they’re treasured. They’re treasured because they’re a link to earlier times when the lifestyle was a subsistence lifestyle rather than a commercialised one, which we have nowadays, so it’s a connection to those times.

    It’s a food store that allowed independence – to be able to grow and feed themselves beyond the summer. In the old days, you didn't have the ability to store like you do nowadays. You only had a few crops to access. You had some native stores, some of the berries and different things, those sorts of things, but you didn't have a lot of food options that you could harvest and store over time, just the kūmara. When the potato came in, you had that option to grow a crop that then could be stored right through the winter, and you could grow it much further south than the kūmara. So it allowed a whole cluster of tribes to become more self-sufficient in a food sense. So it’s that link to that part of their history, and the other side is that it is a part of your experience, so it’s a part of who you are because you grow up with these foods, and they are not food you can access in the supermarket everyday, so they’re part of what makes you unique, and hence they’re taonga.

    All images listed below are from the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
    Working in the kumara plantation, by Russell Stuart Clark, 1955. Reference Number B-023-017.
    Young Maori girl at Te Ariki Pa, photograph taken by the Burton Brothers, ca 1880s. Reference Number: 1/2-004619.
    Maori group with corn harvest, probably in the Canterbury region, photographed by Steffano Webb, ca 1910s. Reference Number: 1/1-019450.
    Slaves preparing food, painted by Augustus Earle. London, lithographed and published by R. Martin & Co, 1838. Reference number: PUBL-0015-03.
    Cases de naturels. Baie des Isles, drawn by Louis Auguste Marie Le Breton, 1840. Reference number: PUBL-0028-184.
    Three food storage pits for storing kumara, at Ruatahuna. Photograph by Albert Percy Godber, 1930. Reference Number: APG-1682-1/2.
    View of an ordinary New Zealand pa with potato plantations around it, ca 1845. Drawn by Cyprian Bridge. Reference number: A-079-031.
    Maori woman and child in a potato field at Mataatua, ca 192-?. Reference number: PAColl-8841.
    Group of men, women, and children, around a hangi. Photograph taken in Mercury Bay. 1913. Reference number: 1/2-022240-G.
    Maori women preparing potatoes, Rotorua, ca 1920s. Reference number: 1/2-040305-G.