Museum Notebook: A Woman on a Mission

Huia Kirk at a fundraising launch event for Pūtiki Church in 2012. Photo / Bevan Conley

I’ve known Huia Kirk from Pūtiki my whole life. An outstanding Whanganui historian and teacher, armed with a sharp wit and often accompanied by a well-behaved dog. Huia has been a strong advocate in our community for more than seven decades. She has always been driven to work for her community.

In the 1960s, Huia was a volunteer at the Whanganui Provincial Museum. In the years since, she has continued to support the museum and is a life member. In 2004, Huia donated a collection of taonga tuku iho (family legacies) to the museum. Some of this collection is proudly displayed in the Ngā Waihonohono Gallery at Te Ātihaunui-a-Pāpārangi, the Māori court, in the Museum.

sponsored by the Whakahoutanga team of organizers, Taonga Band in Cause celebrates Maori arts and entertainment. The centerpiece is the Pūtiki Māori Club uniform. It was made and worn by beloved Huia mother Emily Noumea Kirk (née Churton).

It consists of a tīpare (headband), pare (bodice), korowai (cloak with tassels) and piupiu (a skirt made from the linen plant or New Zealand flax plant). The decoration on the tpare and pare is called tāniko and represents the diamond shape of batik (flounder). When the pātiki style is displayed, it means that people have enough resources to host guests. Back in the old days, you were judged on your ability to dress up, or care, or host. The Pūtiki Māori Club style was designed by the late Sir Kingi Ihaka and senior members of the club. This would have included Paeroa Hawea, Moki Te Patu and my grandmother Maudie Ruaka Reweti.

Pūtiki marae are also known as matapihi, or river window. On the way back when the river was a highway of some sort, groups of travelers were expected to stop at Pūtiki to pay respects and ask permission to travel up the river, the quickest way to get to the center of the North Island.

Accompanying the uniform is a fluffy tiki made of nephrite ponamo. It was made by Hori Pukehika using ancient traditional tools. The tiki belonged to him, but he gave it to his daughter Wini Murray of Parkino, who was whanaunga Huia (a relative of hers). Then Whaea (Aunt) Wini gave it to Huia on her twenty-first birthday. As far as you know Huia, hei tiki does not have a name of its own, perhaps, Huia muses, because the tiki was very small.

Wini also gifted a set of short traditional poi that are displayed alongside the uniform. Several years later, Huia was given a pair of traditional tall poi made by another local Pūtiki, Wai Waitere in the 1960s.

A respected teacher, Huia was a Parikino School teacher, continuing a family tradition that saw her mother and aunt study at Upper River Elementary Schools.

Huia was head of the Restoration Trust that oversaw the restoration of St. Paul’s Memorial Church in Pūtiki. All restoration work is now completed, except for the minbar carpets. The church has been awarded Class 1 New Zealand Heritage status.

Generous with her time, knowledge and Taunga, Huia continues to work tirelessly for her community. She can often be seen walking briskly along Pūtiki Drive and into town. She is a woman on a mission.

Lisa Rewetti is a program presenter at the Whanganui Provincial Museum.

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