Behind the scenes: Preparing a hīnaki (eel trap) for an iwi exhibition


Mark: The object behind me, or taonga, is called a hīnaki, or eel trap. It’s usually put across a river or a stream, and at certain times of the year the eels migrate, and they get to the end of this hīnaki and they can’t go anywhere else. So originally it would have been tied off and the eels would get trapped in the end. Today we’re going to insert a support system into the hīnaki that will help keep its shape while on display in exhibition for the next
two and a half years. Erica: This hīnaki was donated by my grandfather Douglas Porohiwi Jones, however it was gifted to him before that
by Ere Whaitiri who is one of our whanaunga. Back in the 1930s (ish) was
when my family, and all families, down our road used to predominantly use these big
hīnaki to catch eel, kahawai, flounder, and other types of fish. The reason why it’s so large is because not only would you be providing for your
family, but you’d actually be providing for all families down the road. Callum: The challenge of bringing this amazing
piece back to life was finding a solution to support the hīnaki and all its fragilities, in a way that allowed it to float as if it was almost back in
the water or the sea. We made a digital model of it first, and then had the acrylic rings laser-cut, then we manually drilled all the rings, and threaded an acrylic rod through to connect the whole structure. Getting the mount into the hīnaki itself was almost like a Dr. Zeus kind of story – we had a mount
to support the mount, and then another mount that went in the mount, in order to get the mount in. Nirmala: They showed me this object which needed a lot of conservation work. Very daunting, because I saw many many
hours of work in there, but because of the importance of this object to the iwi, and also because it was quite a challenge for conservation, I was happy to say ‘yes’. The acrylic mount came about after a lot
of discussion, there were suggestions to have metal and I thought metal would
interfere too much and be a contrast to the natural fibre. Acrylic allows a lot more light to go through, and we also needed something that was
softer and less aggressive. Now we are sewing on bits that are
broken and dangling so that we fill up as much of the gaps as possible Erica: This hīnaki is very important to
the Rongowhakaata iwi exhibition because it tells our stories and our
narratives of who we are as a people. It shows our innovations – so not only were we making hīnaki for the people around us, but we’re making hīnaki for
all communities. And so in a way we’re not only feeding ourselves by sharing this knowledge amongst our own iwi, but we’re actually sharing it to the world, so that they can learn from us as well. Values are immensely important when it comes to the hīnaki, so when you’re
looking at it in its context you start to understand who they Rongowhakaata were, and who we continue to be.

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