How the Motunui Epa Returned to Rightful Owners

Throughout its reign, the British Empire stole a lot of stuff, Marc Fennell and Simon Leo Brown report for ABC Radio National. Stuff the British Stole podcast is a series about the not-so-polite history behind those objects, and includes a story about the five wooden carvings known as the Motunui epa, which were hidden from marauders in a swamp for over a century, until someone dug them up and took them to Europe.

The epa were made for the back wall of a Taranaki pataka. Historian, archivist and speech-writer Dr Rachel Buchanan says the region is her “spiritual homeland” and the carvings a part of its heritage.

The panels were carved by Te Atiawa artists between 1750 and 1820, and discovered in a swamp in the early 1970s, but then taken out of the country using false papers in 1973 and sold to Geneva-based collector George Ortiz for about $100,000.

After a long legal battle, the epa were returned to New Zealand in 2014 at a cost to the Crown of more $4.5 million and are now permanently displayed at the entrance of New Plymouth’s Puke Ariki museum.

Original article by Marc Fennell and Simon Leo Brown, ABC Radio National, October 20, 2021.

Photo by Puke Ariki Museum.

Tags: ABC Radio National  Dr Rachel Buchanan  Motunui epa  Puke Ariki  Taranaki  Te Atiawa  

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