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281 Karangahape Rd Auckland

Rachel Buchanan

Te Motunui Epa


'This is a story about the power of art to help us find a way through the darkness. It is about how art can bring out the best in us, and the worst. The artworks in question are five wooden panels carved in the late 1700s by ancestors in Taranaki.'

This stunning book examines how five interconnected carved panels, Te Motunui Epa, have journeyed across the world and changed practices, understanding and international law on the protection and repatriation of stolen cultural treasures.

The story begins in the early 1800s in Peropero swamp, just north of Waitara. Taranaki was teetering on the edge of what would be almost a century of war, and Te Ātiawa hapū moved quickly to dismantle their most important public buildings and hide significant pieces in the swamps. The epa – serpentine figures carved in five tōtara panels – went to sleep, only to awaken one hundred and fifty years later to hands that would take them to New York, Geneva, London and the Royal Courts of Justice.

By placing these taonga/tūpuna at the centre of the story, Rachel Buchanan (Taranaki, Te Ātiawa) presents a vivid narrative, richly illustrated, that draws on newly released government records to tell a story of art, ancestors and power.