Réka Mascher-Frigyesi | Project | Vita | Publications 

Related to objects - ethnological comparative study on culturally conditioned value of taonga in collections in Aotearoa, in Germany and in Switzerland (working title)

Social Anthropology
Supervision: Prof. Dr. Holger Jebens

In recent years the position, the orientation and even the justification of the existence of ethnographic museums in Europe have been strongly discussed by the professional world. It is still unclear how the future for these collections should look like. The concepts are different, but there is a tendency towards increased cooperation with the source communities. The museums in New Zealand appear to be pioneers in their efforts to integrate source communities into museum work. These cooperations are for example useful in the search for provenances. From a Maori perspective, it is also a way of using the museums as tools and platforms for their cultural identity. As the “people of the land” (tangata whenua) in New Zealand Society, they thus gain influence on a political level. There emerges a difference of interests between the concepts of the European museums and the New Zealand museums, which finally becomes apparent in the cooperation.

New Zealand is generally regarded as a bicultural society. However, the term is increasingly controversial as it hierarchizes the country's long-standing multicultural population. Here the descendants of the European settlers, as well as the Maori, have advantages in regard towards other population groups in many areas of society. Since the 1980s, a bicultural policy has been proclaimed by the New Zealand government. This also has a direct impact on the museum work, which has thus assumed a clearly political task.

In my research, I am going to examine the extent to which the museums in New Zealand can be seen as tools for Maori political concerns and what role the taonga have. Taonga is the Maori word for ancestral treasure. It can refer to tangible or intangible things with which the Maori have a genealogical relationship. As tangible items, taonga are not utilitarian objects and are passed on from generation to generation.  

Since the arrival of James Cook in New Zealand, taonga were brought overseas.

I will investigate the extent to which the interests and practices of the Maori in dealing with these objects have an influence on museum work in Europe – where these objects are present in ethnographic collections. Therefore the adoptions of the practices of Maori values by curators seem partly arbitrary. In this regard, it is also necessary to discuss the issues of image licensing and repatriation.