Pukaki, the carved representation of a Ngati Whakaue ancestor stands at the Rotorua Museum.
In the 1830s, Pukaki stood as a gateway, five or six metres high, at Pukeroa Pa on the hill above Ohinemutu. He guarded the southern entrance of the pa against attack by Te Waharoa and Ngati Haua warriors.
In 1877 Pukaki was presented by Ngati Whakaue to Fenton during a hui at Te Papaiouru marae as recognition to proceed with the development of the Rotorua township. Thus the presentation of Pukaki to the Crown, through Fenton, was the physical and spiritual seal of trust between Ngati Whakaue and the Crown.
Fenton's great plans to create a native leased township (1880 Fenton Agreement and 1881 Thermal Springs Act) soon collapsed in the wake of the 1886 Tarawera eruption. Tourism plummeted and in the early 1890s tribal leasehold-township lands were compulsorily purchased by the Crown leaving Ngati Whakaue disadvantaged for the next 100 years. The tribe remained unaware that Pukaki had become a gift to a high powered officer of the Auckland Museum. Moreover, the circumstances behind the gift of Pukaki to the Crown were deliberately ignored.
The Return of Pukaki to Ngati Whakaue
In 1995 at a hui at Te Papaiouru, Ohinemutu, the actualities surrounding Pukaki's acquisition by the Auckland Museum in 1877 were revealed through the research of Paul Paora Tapsell which later became a M.A thesis titled Pukaki: Te Taonga o Ngati Whakaue ki Rotorua. In 1996 the thesis was given to the Auckland Museum to alert it to the historical facts. On 4th April 1997 a delegation of Te Arawa elders met with the Auckland Museum and the Museum not only acknowledged the historical research presented but also agreed that Ngati Whakaue were still the owners of Pukaki.
Memorandum of Understanding
On the 2nd October 1997 an invitation from Ngati Whakaue was extended to the Auckland Museum and an official presentation was to take place on the 120th anniversary of Pukaki's presentation to the Crown. Upon the return to Ngati Whakaue of their taonga, the Pukaki Trust was established and a memorandum of understanding was signed by;
- Wihapi Te Amohau Winiata, on behalf of the people of Ngati Whakaue,
- The Honourable Doug Graham on behalf of the Crown
- Mr Peter Menzies, on behalf of the Auckland Museum Trust Board
- His Worship The Mayor Mr Grahame Hall, on behalf of the Rotorua Lakes Council
The trust deed specifies the trustees of the Pukaki Trust shall be;
- Tamati Coffey MP (Chair on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage)
- Dr Paora Tapsell (Ngāti Whakaue representative)
- Steve Chadwick (Mayor of Rotorua)
- Mr David Reeves (Auckland War Memorial Museum representative).
The Trust's main function is to ensure the safe-keeping, conservation and maintenance of Pukaki.