The inside of the constitution room, showing the documents in their cases and the curved wooden interior.

He Tohu is a new permanent exhibition of 3 iconic constitutional documents that shape Aotearoa New Zealand.

It lives at the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa in a stunning new state-of-the-art conservation space, designed to preserve the documents for generations to come.

The documents are:

  • 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.

Partnering to create He Tohu

The He Tohu exhibition has been developed in partnership between Crown and Māori, with significant input from women’s groups nationwide.

Begun in 2014, the partnership provided strategic direction and leadership for He Tohu. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Hon Peter Dunne, has led the partnership on behalf of the Crown, with Māori represented by iwi leaders from throughout the country, particularly Te Tai Tokerau, and Wellington manawhenua iwi Taranaki Whānui and Ngāti Toa Rangatira.

The partnership will continue after the opening of the exhibition, providing high-level strategic guidance in the coming years.

The Department of Internal Affairs He Tohu exhibition development team were also guided by 2 advisory groups, made up of leading Māori experts in areas including history, design, and language, and representatives of national women’s groups.

What is He Tohu?

The He Tohu exhibition has 3 objectives:

  • Preserve our fragile and irreplaceable documentary heritage for future generations.
  • Improve access to these taonga for all New Zealanders and visitors to our country.
  • Enhance learning opportunities for young New Zealanders.

The name He Tohu means 'the signs', and refers to the unique signatures or marks of those who supported these documents. For Māori, these tohu are sacred as those who signed have added their mana.

He Tohu provides on-site and online learning experiences and resources for young New Zealanders, focusing on the history of the documents and their ongoing significance to our national life.

The documents are given life in new and exciting ways thanks to extensive research into the stories of the documents’ signatories.

The exhibition improves public access to these national taonga, with a larger display space and extended open hours. Entry is free.

He Tohu is presented by Archives New Zealand and the National Library of New Zealand, both of which are part of the Department of Internal Affairs.

Representing He Tohu

Patuone, Te Rangi Topeora and Kate Sheppard were chosen for He Tohu’s marketing campaign because of their connection to the three taonga, their mana and leadership displayed at the time and because they are celebrated by descendants.

In creating these artworks, we consulted descendants and experts on the lives of these remarkable people. Our approach was also informed by the He Tohu Māori Technical Advisory Group, Women’s Suffrage Petition Advisory Group and by iwi leaders.

Moving the documents

The new exhibition replaces the previous display of these documents in the Constitution Room at Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.

The exhibition’s 3 documents remain under the statutory guardianship and care of the Chief Archivist and Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga.

The iconic documents were moved to the National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa on 22 April 2017 in a historic pre-dawn ceremonial procession.

Led by Ngāpuhi, the procession included iwi from throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, women’s groups, church leaders, military, and government officials.