We have been drawn here tonight, as the river flows from the mountain to the sea, captivated by the image of a window into the world of Whanganui.
Te Pihi Mata – the Sacred Eye – invites us all, from the Tuhua range to Te Matapihi, mai te puru-ki-tuhua ki te Matapihi.
We come from the boundaries of te iwi Whanganui, lured from Taumarunui to the mouth of the river, Te Matapihi, by the concept of a window to the past, connecting us to tomorrow.
As we gathered here tonight, we recall that the eyes are the window to the soul.
This exhibition shows us that soul – the world of Whanganui tohunga, the keepers of knowledge.
It opens the window into te whatu kura – the taonga of our raranga, whatu, clothing and other images and implements.
It draws wide open the blinds on Te Karu Kumara - the world of kai – the implements that are used to cook, catch or prepare food.
It celebrates the window of life – Mata-a-Puna – our women, our tamariki, our mokopuna. It restores to us the full meaning of the role of women as whare tangata, the house of life.
And of course it provides us with the unique knowledge through the aeons of time, that brought to us, the return of our tupuna. The gallery space of Wai Kamo, literally the Fountain of Tears, takes us all through that journey of reunification with our ancestors.
Te whakaahuatanga mai o kui, o koro ma, ka ao, ka ao, ka awatea.
We look with love on the face of Wi Pauro, te tohunga ahurewa; a spiritual leader whose legacy is still felt and remembered every year in our Tira Hoe Waka, our tribal journey in which we recount our whakapapa, our korero, and our tikanga in the place and context where it belongs - within the River, for the River.
In the photograph featuring Wi Pauro outside a humble whare, we see a small child – and we remember our beloved Nanny Sophie Albert.
And this is how it is, in this exhibition.
The face that stirs a thousand memories.
The image that carries us to a past unveiled by the lens of Partington’s camera, a past which resonates in our hearts and memories.
One hundred years ago, William Henry Thomas Partington ran a commercial studio here in Whanganui immersed in the business of photography as an art form.
In the setting of Te Karu Tahi – the one-eyed window, we learn about the attraction of Whanganui for the photographic community.
And I am reminded of a statement made by the Hon William Pember Reeves in The Long White Cloud; Ao Tea Roa – published in 1898.
In talking about our whare, Reeves had this to say:
Even their largest tribal or meeting halls had but the one door and window; the Maori mind seemed as incapable of adding thereto as of constructing more than one room under a single roof.
This was the paternalistic eye of the coloniser, the external observer looking from afar. This was the historical backdrop against which Partington set up his studio.
Contrary to that world view, this exhibition throws back the blinkered shutters of ignorance and exposes the light of Mata-a-Waka, the river, its beauty, its pathway, its images, its people.
We are guided along te takapau wharanui – the sacred mat – to feel that we are nestled in the heart of our tupuna wharepuni.
It is precious. It is sacred. It is treasured.
And that is why, we of Whanganui iwi, fought for our tupuna, fought for the sake of our mokopuna, to reclaim these taonga images when by sheer good luck, a suitcase filled with glass plate negatives and vintage prints was discovered in 2001.
The Partington photographs tell us of a time of great transition. They are windows to our past, nga taonga tuku iho.
We embrace Te Kani a Karu – the dancing eye – with the full passion of the rhythms of dance, of song, of kapa haka.
But we learn also the feats of war, Mata Rua – the two faces of the taiaha – takes us to Kaiwhakauka where we glimpse at the strategies and tactics employed by Te Hamarama in the battle between Whanganui and the Northern tribes.
This exhibition, is however, also a window of opportunity, for tauiwi and for other iwi to learn of the experiences our people have travelled through Te Wharepuni o Whanganui – literally the House of Whanganui.
They are experiences which guide us into our future journeys together, just as Whanganui iwi have shown in working together with museum staff to create this exhibition.
I recognise particularly the voyage of discovery that Gerrard Albert, Che Wilson, Libby Sharpe and Neil Phillips have travelled, in trying to give expression to the deepest feelings of our people.
Their endeavour to protect and preserve our ancestral photographs within the Whanganui Regional Museum is an inspiration to us all about the depths of respect we owe to our past.
Ko ou hikoinga i runga i toku whariki
Ko tou noho i töku whare
E huakina ai oku tatau oku matapihi
Your steps on my whariki
Your respect for my home
Opens doors and windows
For too long, the knowledge of tangata whenua has been the preserve of historians, anthropologists, ethnographers.
We have experienced and suffered for too long, the cruelty of window-dressing approaches that attempt to give superficial recognition to our history, our customs and language - feeling as if, in the words of indigenous Vietnamese academic Trinh Minh-ha, we've been "captured, solidified and pinned to a butterfly board".
Our old wisdoms, the understandings of our iwi, hapu and whanau is indeed sacred territory – it is the basis of our cultural world.
The title of this exhibition – Te Pihi Mata – means both the wink of an eye, the flash of a shutter, and also the startled raising of one’s eyes that happens with the exposure of the camera.
The challenge we all have, is that this exhibition is not just a momentary wink, a startled reaction, a quick instant of time.
The haunting photographs in this exhibition will remain as images in our minds and memories, long after we leave here tonight.
I mihi to the whanau of the tupuna in this place, who will long to hold these images, to caress their ancestors and cry.
As we have accepted the leaf that was laid in the first section of this exhibition, Te Marae – first contact, we must also accept the challenge of never letting these tupuna be lost again.
We must accept the challenge of building a shared understanding of where we have come from, to connect from the past to today, and on.
We must accept the opportunity to respect the world of Whanganuitanga which we have received through viewing the windows of time.
For in doing so, we will truly honour the ancestors here, the art work of Partington, and the courage of Whanganui iwi in bringing our images home.
And as we reach Te Poutuarongo, the representation of our tupuna will remind us all, that Te Pihi Mata – the Sacred Eye – never shuts. They live on in us, as we will live on in those who follow.
No reira, tena tatou katoa.