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The Coming of the Maori

The Manaia

The Manaia

The convention of the figure-of-eight mouth has been referred to as characteristic of Maori carving. The half of a figure-of-eight mouth in a head profile has a beak-like appearance (Fig. 91d)and, according to Archey (4, p. 171), this was the origin of the so-called "bird-headed man" termed manaia by the Maori craftsmen (Fig. 91e).The manaia became a favourite motif and was used in designs of door and window lintels, barge boards, outer threshold beams, ceremonial adze hafts, and various other objects. The motif underwent variation in the extension of the lips and tongue, additional loops, and a reduction in the size of the head, some being just sufficient to accommodate a large eye, usually inlaid with pauashell. It was used as a bilateral motif in some jade ornaments of the pekapekaclass (Fig. 80f).In the full manaia, the bird-like head retained a human body, arms, and legs but sometimes the head was used as a separate motif to replace the hands and feet of an otherwise normal human figure. Archey stressed the retention of a tooth in the manaiaheads as evidence against an avian origin.

The bird-like appearance of the manaia head, however, has led some authorities to hold that the motif originated from some ancient bird cult Some affinity has been suggested with the bird-headed man figures of Easter Island which, in turn, have some points of resemblance with, the bird motifs of the Solomon Islands. However, the bird motif of the page 313Solomon Islands was based definitely on the frigate bird whereas it was developed locally in Easter Island through the annual competition to obtain the first egg of the sooty tern (manu tara, Sterna hirundo) after the birds arrived on the rocky islet of Motunui sometime between August and October. The Easter Island carvings depict bird-headed men, some holding an egg in one hand. The egg which was the causative factor of the Easter Island motif was of no significance whatever in the frigate bird cult of the Solomon Islands and has no bearing on the human manaia of New Zealand. If the ancestors of the Maori and the Easter Islanders were associated together in the past, it was in central Polynesia before dispersal took place and there is no evidence of any subsequent diffusion from Easter Island to New Zealand. There is also no evidence of the development in New Zealand of any bird cult sufficiently strong to link the manaia motif with some local bird. Hence Archey's contention that the manaia was derived from the human profile appears feasible.