As you pass through the black palisades depicting a pā, the rich, deep tones of a karakia flows over you, welcoming you to this place where you will be challenged and enlightened.
The stories told in Te Takapou Whāriki o Taranaki (The Sacred Woven Mat of Taranaki) were revealed by tangata whenua - the indigenous people – themselves.
There may be sadness and recognition in your response to them, or anger and shock. You may disagree with the history you face, or see the conflict between the settled and the settlers through new eyes.
Many of the stories are sourced from previously unpublished Māori writings and these accounts of the past are told with light and sound creating an atmosphere that is evocative with the weight of history and the Māori way of life.
This atmosphere is further heightened by the taonga – treasures unique to Taranaki - contained in the gallery.
There are exquisite Taranaki carvings, including a waka prow associated with Te Ātiawa paramount chief Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitaake.
Other treasures have been touched by the hands of famous Māori leaders like Te Whiti o Rongomai and Titokowaru. Also on display are some of the gifts they have presented to others in thanks such as the piupiu (flax skirt) given to nurse Ann Evans, in gratitude for the six weeks' medical care she gave to the great chief Titokowaru while he lay dying from pneumonia.
Some of the most significant taonga include a huruhuru kurī – a cloak made from eight complete Polynesian dogskins in about 1810, believed to be the only one in existence.
The adze (Poutama whiria) that helped carve the Tokomaru canoe along with the anchor stone from the same canoe is here. There are also the carvings from the meeting house Rua-toki Te Hau held for safe-keeping for the people of Puniho Marae.
They all sit alongside perhaps the most remarkable taonga of the gallery – a remarkable stone carving.
Puke Ariki is privileged to be able to care for and display such a fine collection of taonga.
Come and be challenged by the past and help reclaim it so generations of all New Zealand and Taranaki people to come can be sure of their future.