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A new future for Hinemihi

Māori meeting house, known as Hinemihi, at Clandon Park, Surrey
Māori meeting house, known as Hinemihi, at Clandon Park | © National Trust Images/Nick Meers

On 28 November 2019 we agreed in principle with Heritage New Zealand for the original historic carvings of Hinemihi, a traditional Māori meeting house in the garden at Clandon Park, to return to her home in New Zealand. In exchange, a new meeting house will be built at Clandon with carvings from expert Māori carvers, allowing the important cultural connection between New Zealand and the UK to continue.

The significance of Hinemihi

As well as being an internationally significant building, Hinemihi is a living being, and each intricate carving represents parts of her body. Her head (tekoteko and koruru) sits on top of the house, her arms (maihi) embrace the veranda and her heart (poutokomanawa) is represented in the central supporting column inside the house.

Hinemihi was a woman of great authority and prestige who lived in New Zealand in the mid-16th century and is the namesake of the Ngāti Hinemihi community, a sub-group of the Tūhourangi Māori tribe.

Hinemihi’s historic carvings were crafted in New Zealand in the 1880s by Tene Waitere and Wero Taroi, widely considered to have been the finest Māori wood carvers of the 19th century.

An important community space

Today her spirit resides in the carvings attached to the Māori meeting house at Clandon. Since the mid-1990s, Hinemihi has been adopted as a meeting house by Ngāti Rānana (a London-based Māori group) and regularly used by the Māori and Pasifika communities in the UK.

Annual Māori traditional feasts and participatory care and conservation projects have enabled community members to contribute to Hinemihi’s spiritual and physical wellbeing.

Why was the decision to return Hinemihi made?

Our decision to exchange the carvings of Hinemihi, after wide consultation and careful consideration, takes forward the story of Hinemihi at Clandon Park and reflects her unique global significance and circumstances.

Together with our Māori friends and partners we have cared for Hinemihi at Clandon Park for many years. We recognise their deep spiritual relationship with the historic carvings of their honoured ancestor, that they consider Hinemihi a living being and want her to return home.

Hinemihi is one of the oldest surviving Māori meeting houses in the world. Since coming to the UK in 1892, she has stood outside in the gardens at Clandon and her carvings have experienced inevitable weather-related damage. It is no longer advisable that they remain outside and unprotected.

The proposed exchange of carvings will deepen the close Māori relationship with Clandon Park, creating a lasting presence through new carvings with spiritual significance and power which will enrich the experience of our visitors, communities and others who value this special cultural connection.

‘We approached this decision with great care and have thoroughly researched the international significance of Hinemihi. We have consulted the Māori community and others here in the UK and in New Zealand. Hinemihi is unique and we recognise the deep spiritual relationship between our Māori partners and the historic carvings of their honoured ancestor.’

- John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Culture and Engagement, National Trust

A new meeting house for Clandon

During her time at Clandon, Hinemihi has become an important and culturally significant place for the Māori and Pasifika communities in the UK.

It is proposed that new carvings will be created in collaboration with specialist Māori carvers and sent to Clandon, where they will become part of a new Māori meeting house. This will continue the tradition of a meeting house in the grounds for visitors and others who value this special cultural connection.

The new meeting house will reflect the legacy and story of Hinemihi, her people and connections in New Zealand, the UK and globally. The new meeting house will take the place of Hinemihi and will be the only functioning meeting house in Europe.

Carvings at Māori meeting house, known as Hinemihi, at Clandon Park, Surrey
Carvings at Māori meeting house, known as Hinemihi, at Clandon Park | © National Trust/Emily Nisbett-Hawkins

Hinemihi’s condition and recent conservation work

Since being in the National Trust's care, Hinemihi has been looked after in partnership with the Māori community in New Zealand and the UK, including collaborative programmes of conservation and repair.

The wooden carvings are extremely delicate, and despite regular care and maintenance, they have deteriorated in the British weather over the past 130 years. To ensure no further deterioration, we removed Hinemihi’s carvings from the building, keeping her body together, for concentrated conservation attention in a specialist studio.

Putting her spirit to rest

Such a unique conservation challenge required international expertise. Because the carvings embody the ancestress Hinemihi, before any work could take place, her spirit needed to be put to sleep for the protection of those engaging in conservation work with her.

Jim Schuster, a specialist conservator from Historic New Zealand oversaw the removal of the carvings. He led prayers and blessings attended by members of Ngāti Ranana (the London Māori Club), Te Kohanga Reo (the Māori language school) and Tūhourangi (the descendants of Hinemihi).

Once Hinemihi was at rest, Jim worked alongside a team of specialists led by National Trust conservator Emily Nisbet-Hawkins, including Dr Dean Sully, conservation students from University College London, a specialist wood conservator and National Trust volunteers.

The team took three days to carefully remove, surface clean, wrap and transport the 28 carvings to safe storage, and to install scaffolding within the building to ensure stability in the absence of the carvings.

The next steps

We are currently seeking formal assistance from the Charity Commission and will progress the legal consents we need from the UK authorities, alongside working with our partners in New Zealand regarding the exchange of new carvings.

An international cultural exchange is a relatively new idea, so we are taking our time together to work out how we would like to do things.

It is very important to all of us that we create a balanced and open way of working, where everyone is able to share their experiences and knowledge and contribute to the exchange.

We are working across multiple time zones, and members of the National Trust team are also taking a Māori language class so they can take part in ceremonies and prayers, which are a very important part of Māori culture.

What has been done so far?

The project restarted in 2021 after a pause imposed by COVID, and so far we have organised several familiarisation workshops, led by members of Ngā Kohinga Whakairo o Hinemihi. The workshops are intended to give us all a shared understanding so that we can work together in a transparent and informed way.

Each workshop focussed on different aspects of Māori history and culture. They have been an invaluable space for the National Trust team to hear first-hand from Hinemihi’s ancestors and to ask questions and learn.

What's happening next?

Our familiarisation sessions will soon be complete, and we will then begin to work with our partners on the details of the exchange. A facilitator will help us explore options for the new meeting house or ‘marae’ as well as the return of Hinemihi to New Zealand with our partners.

Pink roses and a central fountain in the Dutch Garden in July at Clandon Park, Surrey

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