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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

There is more Freedom in the Rafter-paintings

There is more Freedom in the Rafter-paintings

(13) We are in a different world when we look up to the roof and see the designs painted on the rafters and the cornice. The colouring is as monotonous, black and red on the white ground of the wood; but in the designs the artists revel in the curve, the spiral and the scroll. The nearest approach they ever make to the straight line is the design in which long bird-beaks seem to interlock, probably the same as that which Professor Haddon found in the south-east of New Guinea developed from the beak of the frigate-bird. A few are clearly conventionalised from the grinning mouths of the images or from sharks' mouths. The design supposed to be taken from the maungapare or hammer-headed shark, with its involution and interlocking of curves, has certainly departed far from its model. That which is said to represent the patiki or flounder it needs a smaller stretch of imagination to see the origin of. We have little need of ingenuity to find the motif of those that represent the forest world, as for example those that imitate the flower of the scarlet kowhai. By far the larger number clearly draw their inspiration from the leaves of various trees and bushes. In many of them the leaf is not disguised in the least, just as in many of the old tattooing patterns. The artists evidently found most of their designs where they found their timber. They were page 201worshippers of Tane, the god of forests. And a confirmation of this appears on the rafters of the carved house at Matatua, in the Urewera country. Crudely but vigorously drawn, as if by a beginner of talent, there is the picture of a tree with a man snaring birds on it. The rock-paintings found especially in South Island caves and gorges of rivers are not on so high a level as the Esquimaux or American Indian picture-language. They are probably but the marks or signatures of pilgrims or travellers as they took shelter.

(14) It is strange that in such scenery and with such consummate art-sense there is no nearer approach to the landscape. But the crudeness or absence of landscape is a feature of all European painting, too, till less than three centuries ago. There was not the eye to take in the scene as a whole, however much its colour or individual detail might impress the sensuous imagination.

(15) If the New Zealand art of sculpture and designwhat might be called static artbe taken as a whole, it must be placed very high in the scale of culture, and form a complete contrast to many features of the Polynesian life. It is a development of neolithic or conventionalised art, and not of palaeolithic art, or art that copies nature. And thus it is that, though there is nothing Mongoloid in it, it comes nearer to the art of Japan than to that of any other country bordering on the Pacific. And when only an ocean intervenes, and all the races that lived in New Zealand must have been maritime and far-voyaging, we cannot well hesitate as to there having been some common racial source for the two. The Japanese must have absorbed much of the race that they drove off southwards, and absorbed with them not only their maritime habit, but their artistic habit. The difference between the two is partly to be accounted for by the dominance of Chinese influence afterwards on Japan, and the importance of South Asiatic influence on New Zealand.