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My Dad’s family taonga – Potae Taua

The picture below is of my father’s family taonga – a potae taua made for and gifted to my great grandfather, Francis Creighton sometime prior to 1900. 
The story told to Dad by his Aunty Mary was that an old Maori woman of over 80 years made this especially for Francis but over time we have lost the reason behind the making and gifting of the potae taua. It could be due to the fact that his grandmother was Tiraha, daughter of Papaharakeke, whangai daughter of Tamati Waka Nene.
Papaharakeke was killed in 1822 in a Ngapuhi raid on the Te Arawa tribe and it is said that Nene felt it was his responsibility to then raise Papaharakeke’s daughter, Tiraha, as his own. Tiraha married an Englishman, William Cook and had a large family as per usual in those days. Their daughter Jane or Heeni Kuku, married Francis Creighton (the ‘first’ Francis), a 40 year old Irishman in 1848 when she was just 16, they went on to have a family of 13 children.
My Dad’s family taonga – Potae Taua
Francis Creighton (junior) was born 13 Jan 1859 in Wairoa South and died on 15 July 1925 in Hokitika.  On 7 February 1882, he married Eliza Jane McNiece, born 1861 in Ballymena, Ireland; died 14 June 1946 in Maruia.  They farmed in the Maruia Valley at the end of Creightons Road near Murchison.  Francis  and Eliza Jane had four children: Mary Creighton (born 1892 in Thames; married George Baily, a local landowner), Francis Alexander Creighton (born 1894 on Mercury Island; married Anna Ponton in Hornsby, NSW, Australia), John Creighton (born 5 December 1896 at Tararu, Thames; married Gladys May Greig) and Nellie Creighton (born 1900 at Te Papapa, Auckland; married Eric Baily, son of George).
From my great grandfather, the potae taua was passed down to his eldest child, Mary Creighton. Neither Mary nor her sister Nell had children, their elder brother Alex lived in Australia with his family so before her death in 1967, Mary asked her other brother John Creighton (my grandfather) who would be the best person to leave this family taonga to. My grandfather told her that my Dad, Bill Creighton, would be his pick as he seemed to be the one most interested in their Maori heritage. Dad had this treasure at home for many years – loaning it to some of the family for school ‘Show and Tell’ performances and bringing it out to show interested family and friends on special occasions. 
Since Dad was diagnosed with cancer late in 2016 he had given some thought to how he wanted this family taonga to be preserved and cared for. His wish was to give it to Te Manawa, the Palmerston North museum on a long term loan so that people would be able to view the hat and learn a little more about artefacts like this. The process is currently under review by Te Manawa’s Trust Board and it is hoped a decision to accept this gift will be made in the very near future. 
Unfortunately, this has proved to be too late for Dad to be involved in the formality of the gifting as he passed away on 21 May 2017. However, my youngest sister Linda Creighton, who Dad appointed Kaitiaki of the potae taua, did arrange for him to be interviewed by a reporter from the Guardian newspaper in Palmerston North. This interview will be published once the decision on gifting is formally made.  The photo below was taken at the time of the interview.
Francis Creighton (picture on left above),  Bill Creighton, Lorraine Rice, Linda Creighton
The inside of the closely woven harakeke cap
Potae Taua – according to the Auckland War Memorial Museum website is known as a mourning hat although other sites use the term “widow’s cap”. They are generally based on a harakeke (flax) skull cap, with feathers closely woven into the muka strands. Some existing samples have leather ties on either side but others were designed just to sit on the head. My father’s potae taua has brown kiwi feathers all over the cap with white kiwi feathers at the crown.
Interestingly, Cori Marsters (Te Arawa) was honoured in 2016 with a Creative New Zealand Waka Toi Award where he won the Emerging Maori Artists – Nga Manu Pirere award. A descendant of generations of Te Arawa carvers, he learnt from his nan about the practical and functional process of weaving. The Nga Manu Pirere grant will aid Mr Marsters’ research of potae taua. His focus for his Bachelor in Maori Art is to explore the different construction  methods and various types of potae taua. Now rarely seen, potae played a crucial part in the history of Te Arawa to honour special visitors and celebrate important occasions. I hope one day to read his research and understand a little more of the use and the occasions of when potae taua were worn and also more around how they were made.
Lorraine Creighton Rice
2 Sep 2017