In the foyer of Aotea Utanganui Museum of South Taranaki is a Wairua Bowl, a cast glass bowl containing water. Since we have been open many people have asked about the significance of this.
Māori regard water as a cleanser of the soul, a soothing and healing agent and a symbol of blessing. Wairua is the spirit or essence of a being that exists from the moment the eyes are formed in the foetus to beyond death; wairua is immortal. Once a person has passed from this life their wairua becomes tapu or sacred.
The carvings and tukutuku panels in the museum that embody the spirits of our tūpuna carry their wairua. That means the museum is imbued with their spirit and they watch over us as our spiritual guardians. The wairua bowl allows the visitor to cleanse themselves of the tapu or sacred before they re-enter the everyday world. A few drops of water splashed over the head and you become noa, which means free from tapu, everyday or ordinary.
The bowl was cast by Jimi and Lisa Walsh of Waverley. Ironsand from Waverley beach is incorporated into the fabric of the bowl.
There is another cast glass piece in the foyer – this is a collaboration between two artists, Philip Nuku and Emma Camden, that was facilitated by the South Taranaki District Museum Trust.
The piece is called Aotea Utanganui and embodies the spirit of the museum and it’s name. This cast glass work is the prow of a waka taua (war canoe). The two manaia (beaked figures) represent Turi and his wife Rongorongo. The designs on the centre piece are te aka kūmara (sweet potato vine) separated by pakiti haehae (the passing of knowledge). Pakiti haehae represents the tātua (belt) where Rongorongo carried the kūmara.
The piece can also be seen as a ship with a decorated sail signifying the many people who have journeyed to these shores.
Philip Nuku developed the design and carved the wax; Emma Camden cast the glass.
These two works are indicative of the spirit of the museum, of the way we seek to honour our ancestors and celebrate the stories of South Taranaki.