He Tohu - A National Treasure Box

General News

Mar 23, 2017

A new permanent exhibition, He Tohu, housed at the national library of New Zealand, will display the country’s most precious constitutional documents under the guardianship of archives New Zealand.

Three constitutional documents helped shape our nation:

  • 1835 He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni—Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand

  • 1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi—Treaty of Waitangi

  • 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition—Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine

These precious taonga are currently held in the constitution room at Archives New Zealand, Wellington, in a display opened in 1990 by the then Governor-General, Sir Paul Reeves. This exhibition space is nearing the end of its life. In a process commencing in 2014, a new exhibition room, He Tohu, was conceived in a partnership between the Minister of Internal Affairs and iwi leaders throughout the country. 
He Tohu is based on the concept of a waka huia, or treasure box, to improve access for all visitors while preserving the three fragile documents. The documents will remain under the statutory care of the chief archivist at Archives New Zealand, but He Tohu, currently under construction, is located within the National Library of New Zealand building, opposite Parliament.
Fletcher Construction’s specialist experience in museums and other heritage projects of national significance was key to winning the project. Crafting an exhibition room inside a working national library presented unique challenges. Dust, fumes and vibration considerations had to be addressed—particularly with a collections storage room directly below the work site—and no liquids were permitted on site.
Thirty-six cubic metres of storm-felled rimu have been used to create the internal space of the treasure box. The timber, from a forest near Reefton in the West Coast region of the South Island, was lifted out by helicopter and transported to Auckland for lamination and specialist computer numerical control (CNC) cutting. It was then transferred to Wellington, where it was formed into the 480 blocks and 110 panels that shape the exhibition room’s seamless, organic interior.
He Tohu will be opened on Friday 19 May, 2017, by the Governor-General, Her Excellency The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy and attended by invited guests in an event the former Prime Minister, John Key has designated “an event of national significance.” The exhibition will be open to the public from 20 May, 2017.
State of the art technology will be used in the new exhibition to help preserve the taonga for future generations. The new exhibition site also improves access for all New Zealanders with a larger space that will be open six days a week, with on-site interactive and online learning opportunities with a focus on 10 to 15 year olds.