PA2015_041-045.jpg Motunui epa. Collection of Puke Ariki (PA2015.042).

Theft! Smuggling, kidnapping and intrigue… these are the words of Hollywood, not Taranaki. Yet the story of the Motunui epa (wooden panels) is fit for the big screen.

After the British arrived and the Taranaki wars broke out in the 1860s, the Government passed laws to maintain control and many lands were confiscated. Māori found that burying wooden taonga in swamps helped preserve and hide them until they were safe to retrieve.

In 1971, a series of carved epa were uncovered from Peropero swamp near Motunui. They then disappeared – smuggled out of Aotearoa.

Meanwhile in Geneva, when art dealer George Oritz’s daughter was kidnapped in 1978 he advertised his art collection to raise money for her ransom. Here the Motunui epa finally resurfaced.

After many years of international courts cases, Ngāti Rāhiri in partnership with Ministry for Culture and Heritage were finally able to purchase them back. The stolen Motunui epa at last returned home in 2015.

Related Information


Search the Puke Ariki Heritage Collection


Please do not reproduce these images without permission from Puke Ariki. 
Contact us for more information or you can order images online here.