Houses of stories: the whale rider at the American Museum of Natural History

Billie Lythberg, Jennifer Newell, Wayne Ngata


In April 2013, fifteen members of the Māori tribal arts group Toi Hauiti travelled to New York to reconnect with their carved wooden ancestor figure, Paikea, at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). They gave educational presentations  to school groups, museum staff and members of the public about Paikea and the whare kōrero , or house of stories, which Paikea had adorned as a gable figure.

Through a discussion anchored in the importance of taonga (ancestral treasures), this paper describes embodied forms of knowledge used by Paikea’s descendants to know him in his absence, and introduce him to diverse audiences. Its foci are: museum education in multicultural contexts; learning by doing through the use of interactive activities; and community outreach and museum education. In addition, it discusses the challenges to protocols and opportunities for learning offered to AMNH staff through this engagement, and examines the impact it had son Toi Hauiti members themselves.

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Copyright (c) 2016 Billie Lythberg, Jennifer Newell, Wayne Ngata

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360