The return of a treasure

History was made when the extended Wynyard family from Dargaville, Wellsford and other centres met at the Matai Whetu marae in Kopu recently, to return a treasured greenstone artifact that was lost to the tribe on the same day that Captain James Cook sailed off the east coast of the North Island in 1769.

A greenstone adze which was lost on the very day Captain James Cook’s Endeavour sailed New Zealand’s east coast in 1769, has found it’s way back to its owners after being ‘lost’ for 248 years.

I was present at an emotional ceremony this June when the greenstone known as Kanohi Pounamu was handed back by members of my extended Wynyard family from Dargaville, Wellsford and Auckland, to the people of Ngati Maru at Kopu in Waikato.

My paternal great-great-grandfather, Monty Wynyard, came into possession of the Kanohi Pounamu sometime before 1953. From Monty the adze and its history have been passed down, with many failed attempts to find the owners along the way.

A 1953 document by Monty tells the story.

‘In 1769 relatives of Ngati Maru were carving a waka. To add mana to their proceedings and as an augury of success of the canoe, they had obtained from their Thames relations a greenstone adze, a rather small but treasured heirloom of the tribe, with presumed mythical attributes as attested by its name Kanohi Pounamu — Greenstone Eye,’ he wrote.

Suddenly, the boat builders saw the Endeavour sail by and they headed for the pa to tell others.

The craftsman who had the adze fell and dropped it while going up a hill.

More than a century later a kauri gum digger found the adze, minus its handle and broken on one end, buried about 30 centimetres deep.

He gave it to Monty, then a lawyer who acted on behalf of gold mining companies in Thames.

For me as a family member and descendant of Monty, I felt proud and honored to be part of this occasion and part of this family.

I think my relative Barbara Gaston sums it up well by saying “the significance for Aotearoa is the issue of returning toanga to the rightful heirs...

Giving back toanga is an important part of acknowledging the results of colonisation and starting the reversal process by showing respect for the people and culture of pre-Captain Cook times and the Maori culture which is still very much alive today.”

So after negotiations between Barbara and Wati, I, along with other Monty Wynyard descendants, were welcomed onto the Matai Whetu marae in Kopu.

Wati Ngamane, chairperson of Ngati Maru said “it was magic, really nice to get it back as it was a treasured possession of our ancestors...It was a coming home, of something that has been lost,” Two different families and cultures with awe and admiration in common for the sacred stone, both with respect for its mana and seeing it finally come home. It certainly felt like a long time coming.


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