William Partington was an explorer who traveled in New Zealand extensively during the 19th century photographing the native Maori people. In 2001, a collection of Partington’s photographs went on auction in Auckland, New Zealand. This caused outrage amongst the descendents of the native New Zealanders shown in the photos. These photos were taken along the Whanganui River of the Maori people. They were originally used to create a series of postcards sold as exotic depictions of wild native people.
A legal battle ensued to recover the photographs. It was put forth by the Whanganui Maori with the help of the Whanganui Regional Museum. The reason behind the lawsuit was the Whanganui Maori have a religious belief their ancestors essences remain in the photographs, which the Whanganui Maori call the “mana of tupuna.”
One of the surprising elements of this case was the cooperation between the Whanganui tribe and the Whanganui Regional Museum. Prior to the combined efforts to retrieve these photographs, museums simply exploited native people by putting their lives on display for non-natives.
Through the efforts to repatriate the cultural heritage of this indigenous people, the museum’s efforts played an important role to reaffirm the inherent rights of the native people’s claim on their own cultural heritage. Rather than have the photographs disappear into the hands of a private collector, they succeeded in having them made available for public display.
I Am the River: Maori Heritage on the Auction Block
- Enhanced DVD
- ISBN: 978-0-81608-831-7
- Run Time: 51 Minutes
- Copy Right Date: 2010