A Maori tribe has requested the return of artifacts being sold at Sotheby’s, the Guardian reports.
“We have so very few of these taonga [precious objects] and treasures left in our possession,” Ngārimu Blair, deputy chair for Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei people, told the Guardian. “When something like this comes up where we’re both excited, but also that sorrowful that we lost so much.”
The items in question include a pair of Maori short clubs, called mere. One, estimated at $30,000–$48,000, is made of greenstone and includes a silver plaque from 1891 that describes how it came into the possession of British vice-admiral Sir George Tyson. Pāora Tūhaere, leader of the Ngāti Whātua iwi, gifted it to the vice-admiral on the condition that the artifact stay in Tyson’s family. The short club had been passed down for six generations until Tūhaere inherited it, and it had been buried with family members several times.
Now that the artifact is no longer in Tyson’s family, as Tūhaere intended, the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei is trying to get it back into the hands of the tribe, which has been separated from the great majority of its cultural heritage in the wake of colonialism. The hope is that whoever buys these short clubs might gift them to the tribe.
The short clubs are being sold as part of Sotheby’s “Emma Hawkins: A Natural World” auction. Hawkins has been a dealer of art and antiquities in the U.K. since she was young and has specialized in Wunderkammer, strange and alluring objects that would belong in a cabinet of curiosities. Alongside the short clubs are numerous artifacts from the natural world, like the bones of extinct birds, fossilized imprints of ancient flowers, and taxidermy armadillos, as well as odds and ends, such as a case of Victorian glass eyes, wax fruit, and tombstones taken from a pet cemetery.