Ngāpuhi leaders have 'no further interest' in musket believed to have been owned by Hongi Hika

The musket was believed to have once belonged to Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika.
The musket was believed to have once belonged to Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika. Photo credit: Webb's

Leaders of Ngāpuhi are no longer interested in acquiring a musket thought  to have once been owned by chief Hongi Hika after questions were raised regarding the item's authenticity. 

Hika, who died in 1828, was a rangatira of Northland's Ngāpuhi iwi and is regarded as one of the first Māori leaders to utilise European muskets in warfare. He was a prominent figure in New Zealand's early 19th century Musket Wars.

Last week, it was revealed Auckland-based auction house Webb's had acquired a musket believed to have once been owned by Hika. The musket, which was due to go under the hammer on Monday, May 17, was purportedly gifted to Hika by King George the IV and may have been present at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. It was expected to fetch more than $100,000.

However, Webb's made the decision to withdraw Monday's auction after RNZ revealed concerns about the musket's authenticity and how it was obtained.

After an outcry over the sale of such a significant cultural item, the board chair of Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi-Ō-Ngāpuhi (TRAION), Wane Wharerau, met with Webb's managers on Thursday night in a bid to secure the musket's return to the iwi.

"We have not been able to confirm any details in terms with this repatriation, so we'll have to go through there with Webb's. We need to talk to other parties and get a full understanding of where people are thinking," Wharerau said on Friday.

He acknowledged there were still concerns regarding the authenticity of the musket.

"There are some gaps in the history of the item... I do understand there's some other information around, but again, I haven't seen that information in front of me to this date. I know that there's some expert comments that have been made, but I think I'll just leave that to the side for the moment," he said.

"We've got to prove its authenticity, it's providence, but of course we do have an emotional tie to any item that belongs, and has some historic meaning, to Ngāpuhi. It invokes some shift and wanting to a) prove what it is and b) if it is one of ours, to repatriate it."

However, on Monday, TRAION confirmed it was no longer interested in securing the return of the musket.

In a statement, Wharerau said while TRAION doesn't consider itself the spokesperson for all Ngāpuhi people, the board has a "vested interest in tāonga Ngāpuhi and artefacts of cultural significance".

"We have an obligation to te uri o Ngāpuhi to ensure such items are authenticated, and in the appropriate hands," he said.

He confirmed TRAION had been engaging constructively with Webb's and other parties to determine the musket's fate.

"Considering these discussions and expert opinion about the musket's provenance, I can confirm that TRAION has no further interest in acquiring this item," Wharerau said.

"A positive outcome of this incident is that we now have open dialogue with at least one auction house in New Zealand and hope to see a new industry standard develop. 

"We would like to see items of cultural significance that come to the market for sale managed more empathetically in the future. It is important the reputations and mana of all parties is maintained or even enhanced in these important transactions."

The iwi has no further interest in the musket.
The iwi has no further interest in the musket. Photo credit: Webb's

In a statement last week, Webb's said it was "excited" for constructive and positive dialogue with iwi Māori in the future. 

Meanwhile, a direct descendent of Hongi Hika, Haami Piripi, said there has been a "strong desire" to see the musket returned to iwi - if it is indeed Hika's gun. 

"We need to acquire it and make a good use of it," he said.

"That emotional link to it is really real. And I think it's a question of connectivity with our nationhood, and the importance of it in that context can't be underestimated.

"If it turns out that it is the real deal, then I think it's an extremely significant event for the nation."