The Maori: Yesterday and To-day
Chapter X. — Artcraft of The Maori
Artcraft of The Maori.
The Carved House.
The art culture of the Maori is a field which is now engaging sympathetic study by artists and architects, and designers of decorative schemes, and it has come to be recognised that there is much that is very beautiful and graceful in the wood-carving and painting and weaving developed by the native people. Superficial observation in the past has dwelt on the grotesque and barbaric side of Maori art, to the exclusion of the decorative designs which reflect the height of Maori genius. The forms of tree and flower, of bird and cloud and mountain, the story of the tribes, the soul and romance of native life, are expressed in these designs, evolved during many centuries of life in a country of great natural beauty. It would indeed have been strange had the Maori not absorbed the spirit of this beauty, and interpreted it as best he could in the materials at his hand.
“Maori designs,” a New Zealand artist has written, “with their oppositions of lines and spaces, their rhythmic sequences of curve and counter-curve, of thrust and counter-thrust, of balance and counter-balance, are expressive of the vitality and virility of both Maori and pakeha. The forms used seem to me to be the natural incarnation of our environment. They are the essence distilled from our surroundings, and are therefore part of the life and character of every New Zealander. Environment is the all-important factor in the creation of decorative forms.”page 115
The importance of the study and encouragement of the art that is native to the soil has been recognised by the New Zealand Government in recent years, and a practical result of the newly-born interest in wood-carving and its kindred arts has been the creation of a Maori Arts and Crafts Board. This body was established under an Act of Parliament passed in 1926, entitled “An Act to Encourage the Dissemination of Knowledge of Maori Arts and Crafts.” The duty of the Board is defined as “to foster and encourage the study and practice of these arts and crafts,” and in furtherance of its objects it is empowered to establish schools of Maori art or other institutions; purchase, acquire, or vend any carvings or other articles having distinctive Maori characteristics, and take custody and control of native antiquities. The first step taken was to establish a school of carving and other arts at Rotorua, under the management of the Board, and the first director appointed was Mr. H. Hamilton, son of the late Mr. A. Hamilton, author of Maori Art and for many years director of the Dominion Museum. The school has been established in a small way, but it is a start, and it is looked to as the nucleus of a technical training college which shall have for its goal the fostering of a very wide appreciation of the artcrafts native to the country and the application of those arts to European as well as Maori architecture and decoration. It is peculiarly appropriate that Rotorua should have been selected as the centre of such a circle of New Zealand culture, for the Arawa people of that district have always been regarded as the most skilful wood-carvers in the land, and the experts of the tribe are the best instructors procurable to perpetuate the knowledge of the designs and the traditions of an artcraftsmanship distinctive of New Zealand. page 116 Indeed the existence of such designs and such traditions are a very precious possession of our New Zealand people, and they will have a share of increasing importance in the moulding of decorative features peculiarly fitting to our landscape and our conditions of life.
The principal medium in which Maori artistry finds expression to-day is the totara-wood in which carvings are made, and interior painting in red, black and white, for the communal meeting-house—the whare-whakairo (carved house), whare-hui (assembly-house), or whare-runanga (council-house), as it is variously called. In former days the war-canoe figureheads and stern posts were beautifully carved, but this branch of the olden artcrafts has still to be revived. The tattooing of face and body, the famous art of moko in which the Maori excelled, was also a great channel for artistic decoration, but this, except in the case of the women's chin-tattooing (kauwae) is an art extinct.
During the last few years there has been a renaissance in wood-carving, especially in the Rotorua district and along the Bay of Plenty. The Maori type of house, even one unadorned with carving, has impressed many travellers as in fine harmony with the landscape, and a dwelling or a meeting-house with carved front and decorative finial or tekoteko and its warm but not garish colour scheme, has come to be regarded by the artist as a fitting and necessary complement to a scene of characteristic New Zealand life. The old village with its pretty orderly grouping of raupo and nikau or bark-roofed whares has given place to the new, which is too often the reverse of picturesque. But in nearly every village there is a carved meeting-house, the centre and focus of the township's social life.page 117
Interior of a Carved House, Rotorua. [Photo, by Josiah Martin, Auckland
The martial tattooed figures carved at the entrance and around the walls of a whare-whakairo represent ancient chiefs and heroes, and atua or deified ancestors. The interior of such a house is bright with rafter scroll patterns, and adorned with rich carving and with tuitui, fanciful lattice-work done with lathes and reeds. A pretty design is the purapura-whetu or star-dust in groups of tiny stars. The scroll paintings in black and white and red are described as tuhituhi (do not confuse with tuitui) which means to depict with brush or pencil or charcoal. They are used in the broad frieze which runs, around the building; they are graceful conventionalised representations of natural objects, chiefly the drooping flowers of the kowhai, and the uncurling new fronds of the fern-tree; there is also an idea based upon the appearance of the hammer-headed shark, called the mango-paré, and there is the puhoro, the tattoo-pattern specially devoted in former days to the upper part of the legs.
Many Maori designs are used in the adornment of the interior of churches in native districts. The pretty church of St. Faith at Ohinemutu is an example. The front of the pulpit is a series of panels of taniko work, the beautiful mat-border design; it seems to be painted until a close inspection shows that it is really woven fine flax, most delicately and skilfully done in black and white diamond shaped and zig-zag patterns. The tuitui (to sew or to stitch), or arapaki, in lathes and reeds, and coloured flax and other tough fibre binding, covers a great variety of patterns. Some of these have poetical names, indicating their origin or fancied likeness. One is niho-taniwha or “dragon's teeth”; another is called “albatross tears.” When bird-hunters years ago, the Maoris relate, went to the Rurima Rocks and other offshore islets in the page 119 Bay of Plenty in search of the young (kuao) of the albatross, the young birds seemed to know their fate, for when the men approached they wept tears, which fell in long drops—the roimata toroa. Over the doors is the kaokao or “rib” pattern, a series of chevrons. There is the diamond pattern, which is called patiki, because of its imagined resemblance to the shape of the flounder. The poutama is a succession of steps in black and white.
Many of the tuhituhi or painted scroll patterns are immeasurably ancient. Maori legend says they were first pictured by Tangaroa, the Maori Neptune, whose carved house in the depths of the ocean was hooked by Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga, when he made his titanic fishing haul. The hook caught under the front gable end of Tangaroa's house, and drew it to the surface; and this mountainous island of ours is really nothing but the tahuhu, the painted ridge-pole of the sea-god's dwelling.page 120
Some of the olden customs and ceremonies are adhered to quite strictly in the building and ceremonial opening of these carved houses. I observed at Maketu an illustration of one immemorial observance. The carved slabs had been set in position round the interior of the 60 ft.-long whare, built on concrete foundations, and the workmen were preparing for the raising of the heavy totara maihi, the two large carved front barge boards. There was a notice in Maori painted on a board in front of the building: “Women must not enter this house.” This prohibition against feminine visits applies to pakeha as well as Maori. No woman is allowed to set foot in a newly-carved house until the tohunga and the chief carvers have carried out the ceremonies of the “taingakawa,” or “kawangawhare,” for the removal of the tapu which attaches to all buildings in which the children of Tane-Mahuta, the god of forests, have been carved into the figures that represent tribal gods and ancestors. The final act in such ceremonies is the entry into the house of a selected woman, a chieftainess of the tribe, who is accompanied by the tohunga and the carving experts. They walk round the decorated interior, eating portions of cooked kumara as they go, and the priest recites the ancient karakia. Then, but not before, is the house free to all. A somewhat similar antipathy to female interference exists in some parts of Polynesia. At Niue Island no woman was permitted to board a fishing-canoe.
The carved and tattooed statue of Toroa, at the foot of the main roof-pillar in the assembly-house “Te Whai-a-te-motu,” Urewera Country.
Ngati-Porou, around the East Cape, have some large and artistic village halls, combining ancient patterns with modern comfort. But no carved house I have seen in all the villages of Maoridom is superior, for true ancient artistry and primitive consistency of construction, to the Whakatohea meeting-house and prayer-house called “Tane-Whirinaki,” which is to my mind the best extant example of a native decorated building. It stands among the peach trees on a pretty mound above the Waioeka River, a settlement called Opekerau, about six miles inland from Opotiki. The house was built by the chief Hira te Popo, of the Ngati-Ira sub-tribe, forty years ago. It is massively and richly carved in designs embodying tribal mythology and history, and is not disfigured with pakeha door and glass window like most Maori halls nowadays. The paré, or architrave above the doorway, the ruru head above the entrance, and the parata, the end of the ridgepole in the porch-roof, with the tattooed head of Rangi-Kurukuru, the Sky-father, are particularly good examples of Whakatohea artcraft. This house is of remarkable interest in another way, for it is tapu to Europeans. The Ngati-Ira are all adherents of the Ringa-tu church the—offshoot of the old Hauhau religion—and are strong in the faith that Te Kooti promulgated, and their prayers and chants rise in “Tane-Whirinaki” every night and morning.page 123
“Te-Whai-a-te-Motu,” the carved meeting-house at Mataatua, Ruatahuna Valley, Urewera Valley.
[Photo by W. A. Neale, Tapui.
The leading motive in Maori art is the spiral (pitau). Bold in design, beautifully accurate, it is purely a product of the native life in these islands. It was evolved in New Zealand from the study of natural objects. But it has its likenesses in many Oriental countries, and a poet reminds us that it appears in the decorated designs of ancient civilisations in Central and South America:page 125
“On Aztec ruins grey and lone,
The eireling serpent eoils in stone,
Type of the endless and unknown.”
This explanation, of course, is not necessarily to be accepted. The three-finger conventional design in the carvings seen in Maori work no doubt originated far back in the ages in Asiatic lands—it has been observed in Alaska too—and who shall say now what object it served or what peculiar belief suggested and perpetuated it? Some will have it that it is intended to avert ill-luck, by varying the effigy somewhat from the human form, but this may be European theory.
A meeting-house of the Urewera Tribe, at Ruatoki, Whakatane Valley.
Another curious design is the beaked manaia pattern, with its suggestions of some prehistoric creature. At Rotorua you see it carved on the ends of the choir seats and the pews in the Maori mission church of St. Faith at Rotorua. The design embodies, according to the Arawa carvers, the remembrance of a strange being of old who lived in page 129 the ocean. In the sea he was a fish; when he emerged he took the form of a man. Moreover, he was a god, and it was bad luck to get him in your fishing-net or on your hook. The most extraordinary thing about the god creature was that he had only one human side to his face. Seen in profile form one side he was to all appearance a man, but let him I turn his face and you would see that the other side was that of a fish. He had but one eye and one arm; and so you never see a manaia carved in full face but only in profile, with the one eye showing. One is reminded of the stories of Dagon the fish-god and other classic mythological apparitions, but our Maori manaia out-freaks them all.
The Rite of the Kawanga-Whare: Maori House-Opening Ceremonies.
A special tapu attaches to the timbers of a newlycarved house, because the trees which have been felled to build the whare are the sacred children of Tane-mahuta, the God of the Forest, and because they have been carved into the semblance of revered ancestors and into representations of national and tribal deities. The tapu must be laid, its dangerous powers averted, before the house can be occupied safely. This priestly ceremony of quelling the mystic influences of danger is termed whai-kawa, or kawanga-whare, also taingakawa o te whare. The hau tama-tane and the hau wahine, the male and female principles, co-operate in the removal of the tapu.
A peculiar sanctity surrounds all the operations of constructing an important carved house, from the felling of the tree to the day that the last worked slab is placed in position. The carvers of to-day are very careful not to infringe any of the unwritten page 130 laws of the art and of tapu. Neither they nor any of the people would ever think of using the chips and shavings from the carvings for a fire for cooking food; neither will a workman blow the shavings off while he is engaged with chisel and mallet and axe. The breath is pollution; he turns the timber on its side and shakes the shavings off, or brushes them away. I have witnessed ceremonies of kawa-whare in the Arawa country conducted in strict accordance with ancient practice, with the full ritual which is believed to free the house from tapu and render it fit for habitation. The karakia or service of prayer and charm used on these occasions were dictated to me privately by the priests, after the meetings, and it is interesting to compare the several rituals. I have also collected notes of kawa-whare ceremonials and karakia in the Taupodistrict, and chants formerly used in the South Island. A ceremony of this kind which I shall describe is worth placing on record because it preserves the ancient Maori-Polynesian ritual unspoiled by pakeha influences.
I witnessed the ceremony here described in 1908 in the Tuhourangi village at Whakarewarewa. It was the taingakawa of the carved meeting-house “Wahiao”, built by Mita Taupopoki and his kinsfolk, a house richly adorned with whakairo designs without and within. Taua Tutanekai Haerehuka was the tohunga who recited the ancient rhythmic form formulae for the purpose of freeing the new house from the tapu of Tane's woods that clung to it.
In the carved bargeboards on the front of the house were placed the chisels, the bone and wooden mallets and the axes and adzes used by the carvers in their work. These tools were sacred for the time being, and special karakia were pronounced over them. With a taiaha weapon in his hand, a page 131 kiwi-feather cloak about him, Tutanekai advanced to the right front of the house and stood there by the side of the spiral-carved maihi or gable bargeboard. In a quick level voice he recited his charms to propitiate the spirit of the sacred forest of Tane-Mahuta. This was his opening karakia:
Ko te tuanga o te rakau ki raro:
I te Wao-nui-a-Tane,
I te urunga tapu
Kua ara, kua ara
A Tane ki runga;
Kua kotia nga putake
O te rakau o te whare nei;
Kua waiho atu
I te urunga tapu;
Kua kotia nga kauru
O te rakau o te whare nei;
Kua waiho atu
I te Wao-nui-a-Tane.
Kua tae au
Ki nga pukenga,
Ki nga wananga,
Ki nga tauira.
Patua te toki a Tai-haruru.
Kua piki hoki nei
Ki te maro-hukahuka-nui
Te ngaru ai e whati ai
Kaore ko au
E kimi ana, e hahau ana
I nga uri o te whanau a Rata
Hai pokapoka ia Tane
Kaore i kitea,
Kua mate noa atu
I te awa i Pikopiko-i-Whiti.
Ma te maranga mai ai
Ko hiki-nuku e!
Ta taua rangi!
The translation of this invocation is as follows:
“For the felling of the Tree:
“King of the forest-birds, chief of the parakeets that guard Tane's mighty woods, Tane's sacred resting place (listen to my prayer)! Tane (the Tree) stood erect, stood erect, amidst the page 132 forest shades; but now he's fallen. The trunk of Tane has been severed from the butt; the stump of the tree felled to build this house stands yonder in the sacred resting place. The branehy tree-top, the leafy head, has been cut off; it lies yonder in the Vast-Forest-of-Tane. I have performed my ceremonies of propitiation; I have appealed to the spirits of our priestly ancestors, and to the sacred ones. I have struck these timbers with mallet and chisel; I have struck them with the axe of the Sounding-Seas. I have mounted upon the great foaming girdle of the sea-god Tangaroa, the waves beaten down and divided by the canoe Nuku-tai-maroro. I am seeking, searching for the descendants of the children of Rata, to carve these timbers for me. I found them not; they were slain at the river Pikopiko-i-Whiti. O ancient ones, return and aid me on this our sacred day.”
The kakariki powhaitere invoked in the first lines is the bird which is said to lead the flocks of parakeets in the forests; it is in Maori mythology the guardian of the sacred woods of Tane-mahuta. The leader of the parakeets is an ariki, “a priest and king” of the birds. The karakia appeals to the bird for its help and sanction; the ancient belief was that if the forest-creatures were not appeased by supplication and pious rites when a great tree such as a totara was felled by axe and fire, the birds and the fairies would set it up again during the night. Rata, mentioned in the chant, was a Polynesian chief and canoe-voyager who lived centuries ago in one of the islands of Polynesia, probably Upolu, in the Samoa Group; the lines alluding to Rata and his children memorise the fact that he and his people were carvers and canoe-builders.
The second karakia in the ceremony was for the removal of the enchantment of the carvers' sacred implements, and of the tapu attaching to the carving of the trees into the semblance of gods and of sacred ancestors. It began:-
“Takina te kawa o te whare e tu nei, he kawa tuatahi”—“Rehearse the sacred ritual of the house standing here, the first tapu-avertig spell,” and so on to the tenth kawa or charm for the lifting of the tapu. Then the chant proceeded:—“This is the page 133 prayer of Maru-te-whare-aitu, of Maru-whakawhi-whia” [deified ancestors of the Arawa tribe], “the prayer of the house Hau-te-Ananui” [a great whare-maire, or sacred house of instruction for the priests, which stood in ancient times in Arorangi Pa on the eastern slopes of Mokoia Island]; and ended with these words, always used at the end of invocations of this kind:
Haramai te toki,
(“Bring hither the axe, 'Tis finished!”)
The last two lines were repeated by the assembled people in a chorused shout. As Tutanekai recited the Kawa he struck with his taiaha the various carved slabs and posts on the front of the house.
The third and final kawa was the “Ruruku o te whare,”an appeal to the gods to make the house stable and firm, to avert all accidents and ills, and make it a warm and pleasant dwelling-place. It began:—
Rukutia nga pou tauhu
O te whare nei;
Rukutia nga poupou
O te whare nei;
Rukutia nga tukutuku
O te whare nei;
and so on invoking the gods to bind firmly and make strong and fast the various parts of the house, so that all its posts and pillars, its rafters and beams and carved slabs, its thatch and roof might stand firm and never be overturned.
Then the chant proceeded in a passage of much beauty, a true house-warming prayer:
Rukutia, rukutia,page 134
Kia u, kia mau,
Kai tae mai
A te Anu-matao
Ki roto i a koe—e!
Kai ninihi atu ai
A Ua-whatu, a Ua-nganga,
Kai whakamai hoki
A Hau-nui, a Hau-roa,
Taku hiki i pai ai
Mo roto ia Tane
E tu nei-i,
Nga tangata mo roto
I a Tane e tu nei!
Haramai te toki,
Here the house is considered as Tane the Tree god personified. This is my translation of the invocation:
“Bind, bind together that all may be firm and steadfast, so that into thee, O Tane, may enter not the cold and stormy elements, the Frost-wind, the Great Rain, the Long Rain, the Cold Sleety Rain, the Hailstones; that thou mayst stand against the assault of the Mighty Wind, the Long-prevailing Wind, the tempests of the wind god Tawhiri-matea! May all be warm and safe within thy walls! These shall dwell therein—Warmth, Heaped-up Warmth, and Glowing Heat, Joy and Gladness, these are the people who shall dwell within Tane standing here before me! Now 'tis done! Bring hither the axe, and bind it on. Our work is o'er!”
And as Tutanekai ended, all the people cried:—
The final act in the ceremony was the takahipaepae, treading the threshold. In accordance with immemorial custom this was done by a woman, on of ariki rank, a Ruahine, being chosen for the crossing of the door-sill, so that the house might henceforth be free to women to enter. This woman was Meré Kanea, daughter of Mita Taupopoki, and cousin of Hune, the chief carver. Tutanekai, the tohunga, accompanied her, and gave her the custom page 135 ary-sacred food, a kumara which had been cooked in a tapu oven, the “fire of Ngatoro-i-rangi,” one of the boiling springs. This was finally to remove the tapu from the interior of the building, so that food might be brought into it, and that people might eat and sleep there without fear.
Another kawanga-whare which I witnessed was that of the beautiful carved house “Rauru,” at Whakarewarewa, in 1900. It was remarkable because of its curious story of a fatal tapu which attached to some of the carvings, and because the two tohungas who performed the karakia both died soon after the ceremony, old Rangitahau of Taupo, in eight days, and, Tumutara Pio, of Te Teko, a little later. There was mutual jealousy, and the people say they fatally bewitched each other.