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The Coming of the Maori



The painting of woodwork for decorative purposes has been but little reported from Polynesia. In the Cook Islands, two double canoes seen at Atiu on Captain Cook's visit, were painted all over with squares, triangles, and numerous small figures in black. The hull of a Mangaian canoe, now in the Dominion Museum, is also painted in black with simple figures, the principal one being vertical lines with the upper ends curled into a short single spiral (99, p. 202). In Mangaia (99, pp. 196-198) and Aitutaki (99, p. 191), some paddles and drums were painted with simple motifs in black, and in Rarotonga (99, pp. 313, 314), some images were also painted with simple motifs in black. The black colour was obtained by burning candle-nut kernels and mixing the soot with oil. A red colour was obtained in Hawaii and Samoa from red ochre, or haematite, but so far as decoration was concerned, its use was evidently confined to patterns on tapa cloth. The decorative painting of woodwork did not advance very far in Polynesia.

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In New Zealand, red ochre, or haematite, was termed karamea and after it was burnt and powdered it became kokowai or horu. The kokowaiwas mixed with shark oil to form a red paint. A black paint was provided by mixing soot with oil. With these two paints and the natural white of the wood, the Maori craftsmen decorated the rafters of their carved meeting-houses with artistic designs in red, black, and white, a form of art unknown in Polynesia. According to Williams (46, p. 119), the Ngati Porou of the Waiapu district sometimes added a blue-gray produced by a slimy clay known as tutaewhetu.

A number of Maori rafter patterns were collected by the Rev. Herbert W. Williams and 29 of them were reproduced in colour by Hamilton (46, p. 117), with Williams's description and identification of the designs. The Maori artist did not copy from a pattern but carried the design in his head and outlined it on the rafter before filling in the colour. This visualizing from memory was also observed by carvers and is probably the cause for so many variations both in carving and painting. The actual motifs were few but by repetition and alternation, various combinations were made which formed different designs. In many designs, the motifs were in white with the colour filling in the background. In the better paintings, according to Williams, the colour was not put on flat but was applied in "finely embattled lines" or, in other words, the background was hatched with close parallel lines. In some designs, the motif is in colour and in others, there appears to be a combination of some motifs in white and some in colour.

The commonest motif was the scroll consisting of a curved stem rounding off at the free end into a small circle resembling the centre of a single spiral. Smaller scrolls were branched off from the stems of the larger scrolls to fill in the field artistically (Fig. 95a, b).The scrolls showed up in white from the rest of the field being filled in with colour. In modern times, the scrolls were painted with white paint. The impression conveyed by the designs is that the artists had been influenced by fern fronds which had straightened out, the smaller branched scrolls representing the opened pinnae of the leaf which were joined on conventionally wherever it was best to fill in unoccupied spaces in the field. In conventional treatment, it was the midribs and the end knobs that had been selected for the motif and the leaf details were disregarded. In the 29 designs figured by Hamilton, no less than 18 were different combinations of the scroll motif.

The next most frequent motif was the crescent which occurs in 6 out of the 29 recorded designs. This motif was coloured in red and in black and internally enhanced with large white circles spaced along the convex edge of the crescent and so close to the edge that some broke its continuity (Fig. 95c-e).

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A curious development of the circle enhancement occurs in two designs in which two sets of curved lines, or rather bars, interlock at their ends to form the semblance of the centre of a double spiral. On the convex edge of the coloured bars, smaller white circles are placed close together and break the continuity of the edge so as to form a cusped edge (Fig. 95f).

Fig. 95. Painted rafter patterns, after Hamilton.a, b,scroll; c-e, crescents; f, g, double spiral centres; h, oblique bars.

Fig. 95. Painted rafter patterns, after Hamilton.
a, b,scroll; c-e, crescents; f, g, double spiral centres; h, oblique bars.

One of the designs with a double spiral was called Pitau a Manaia, (fern frond of Manaia) and the name recalls the application of the term pitau to the double spiral in canoe figure-heads. In this design, the broad curved bars forming the spiral are enhanced with spaced white circles along the convex edges as in the crescent motifs. Colour is used to define the spiral bands and also to show up subsidiary scroll motifs in white (Fig. 95g).Page Rowe (63, p. 118), in drawing attention to the spiral motif occurring only twice in 29 designs, inferred that "the Maori artist was not nearly so obsessed with the spiral as the pakeha commentator." However, it is more reasonable to infer that the Maori artist had developed page 321some artistic taste and preferred the scroll in painting and the spiral in carving.

A marked departure from the orthodox curved lines is present in a design of straight, oblique bars in white with short flattened loops at the points where two bars meet (Fig. 95h).The design is termed puhoro and Williams (46, p. 119) states that according to strict rules, it should be represented in plain black and white. This restriction in colour was probably brought about by the fact that the same pattern under the same name of puhoro was used as a tattooing design on the thighs to complete the rape design of double spirals on the buttocks. The painters evidently conceded the design to the tattooers and when they rarely used it, they conformed to the tattooing technique by restricting themselves to one applied colour.

Since writing the above paragraph, Phillipps (59, p. 11) has recorded that the puhoro pattern (Fig. 95h),which was collected by Williams in Tamatekapua at Rotorua, was actually copied from the puhoro tattooing of the great grandfather of my old friend Kepa Ehau. I still maintain, however, that the puhoro design was originally worked out on wood before it was actively employed by the tattooing artists.

The different designs had individual names but as the various combinations of conventional motifs resembled no named objects, the artists rightly used their imagination in naming their own creations. One double spiral design received the conventional term of pitau credited to Manaia. Some of the scroll designs were named kowhai ngutukaka (flower of Clianthus puniceus), mangopare (hammer-headed shark), and ngutu kura (red lips). One design, in which the field was roughly divided into lozenge-shaped areas, was named patiki (flounder) from its outline. Two designs with the crescent motif were named ngutu kaka (parrot's bill) but such names as rauru and koiri served merely to label the designs though they may have meant something to the artists who conferred them. The later copies of old designs underwent change from failure to remember details. Longitudinal median lines and cross lines were also introduced in later times to divide the field and render the fitting in of details easier.

The background in Polynesia was not conducive to the development of rafter decoration by painting. The rafters were smaller and formed usually of rounded lengths of undressed timber. As the cross purlins were lashed to them with sennit, the form of art expression went in the direction of arranging the turns of the sennit binding in decorative patterns. In Mangaia, decorative bindings of various designs were extended over the whole extent of the rafters (99, pp. 45-47). In New Zealand, the development of more solid houses necessitated more massive woodwork and opened up a field which was absent in Polynesia. The desire for the page 322interior decoration of the large meeting houses led to the carving of the interior surface of the wall posts which was followed by decorating the wall spaces between the wall posts with the tukutuku lattice work. The wide dressed rafters attracted attention by their bareness and so the plan of interior decoration was completed by painting them with coloured designs. In order, however, to get an uninterrupted field for the painting, the lashings to the purlins had to be removed and so the builders invented the unique technique of slinging the purlins by a rope which did not show in the interior. Thus art and craft reacted on each other and they progressed together to reach a peak of achievement which is extraordinary for a stone-age culture.