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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

East Coast Native Art — Fine Specimens in Famous Collections

East Coast Native Art
Fine Specimens in Famous Collections

Seeing that Poverty Bay and the East Coast are reputed to have been the home of ancient Maori carving in its highest form, it is a matter for regret that but few of the olden examples are now to be found within the area. Some fine specimens were permitted to be taken out of the district, but many were allowed to rot away. Missionary influence led to the abandonment of features in the carving which pakehas regarded as indelicate.

Whilst a native church (90 feet by 45 feet) was being erected at Manutuke in 1851 to replace the structure blown down in 1842, the Rev. T. S. Grace was shocked to find that the carvers intended to include in its adornment carvings in which hideous caricatures of the human form were conspicuous. He pointed out to them that such carvings would be most improper in a place of worship. So reluctant were they to depart from custom that work on the church was halted. Some years later they were induced to adopt a modified style and complete the building. It was opened on 19 April, 1863.

The war canoe Te Toki-a-Tapiri (Tapiri's axe)—one of the richest treasures in Auckland Museum—graced the waters of Poverty Bay over a century ago. Twice she was exchanged for gifts, and twice she changed hands for money. She was built circa 1840 for Te Waka Tarakau at Whakaki (Hawke's Bay). Tarakau, who was a descendant of Tapiri, presented it to Te Waaka Perohuka, a chief of Rongowhakaata tribe (Poverty Bay), who, in return, sent him a garment named Karamaene. About ten years afterwards Perohuka gave the canoe to the great northern chief, Tamati Waaka Nene, and his brother, Patuone. In return they sent him a piebald stallion named Taika (Tiger), which he gave to Tarakau.

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In the late 1850's Te Toki-a-Tapiri was sold to Ngati-te-Ata tribe for £400, and the money was handed to John Hobbs, who had, at Hokianga, squared a large kauri spar which a European had obtained in exchange for Taika. The canoe was among a number which the Government removed from Manakau Harbour during the Waikato War. As she had been slightly damaged Ngati-te-Ata refused to take, her back, and received £600 compensation. She was presented to Auckland Museum in 1885.

Turanga House, which is in the Dominion Museum at Wellington, was built in Poverty Bay by Raharuhl (Lazarus) Rukupo (a chief of Ngati-Kaipoho) as a memorial to his elder brother, Tamati Waaka Tuangere. It was finished in 1845 and named Te Hau ki Turanga. A. Hamilton (for many years the curator of the museum) described it as “the finest specimen of its kind extant.” In 1867 the Hon. J. C. Richmond, acting for the Government, bought it. Some of the external features had to be replaced, and, in recent years, some further improvements were effected under the supervision of Sir A. T. Ngata. The interior is practically in its original state. All the carved figures, which stand 4 feet 6 inches high, represent great ancestors.

Mr. Tareha, M.H.R. for Eastern Maori District, told the members of the Wellington Philosophical Society in August, 1868, that the Maoris who came in Tanetawa canoe were highly-skilled carvers, and that Lazarus's House was one of the great works of their descendants. He added that the ancient god of carving was Taukarua, and that it was Tuaneko who discovered the art of painting.

A beautiful storehouse, Nuku te Whatewha, is among the Dominion Museum exhibits. It is a whare whata, or pataka—a house on pillars—of the type used in former times to store food in. In 1856 Ngati-Porou presented it to the loyal Wellington chief, Wi Tako Ngatata. For many years it stood in G. Beetham's garden at Thorndon. It was then dismantled and forwarded to London. Experts regard it as one of the finest pieces of native craftsmanship extant.

W. J. Phillipps, F.L.S. (Carved Maori Houses in the Eastern Districts of the North Island) says that carvings of a meeting-house at Tolaga Bay were acquired, in the early 1890's, by Henry Hill, of Napier, who sold the raparapa of the maihi and the doorway to the Dominion Museum. Mr. Hill also obtained one of a series of carved houses named “Te Kani-a-Takirau,” which was built at Tolaga Bay in the 1860's, and sold it to an English buyer.

Sir A. T. Ngata informed Mr. Phillipps that the carved slabs of Ruatepupuke, which stood in Tuatini pa (Tokomaru Bay), were buried at the mouth of Mangahauini Creek, circa 1828, prior to an attack upon the pa by T'Aitanga-a-Hauiti. Rongowhakaata and Te Wera's Mahia Ngapuhi. Subsequently the stream formed a new mouth and they could not be found. Some 30 years later the successor to Ruatepupuke (built about 1861) was sold to Mr. Hindmarsh, a dealer in Maori curios, who disposed of it to the Field Museum, Chicago.

Hau te Ana-nui-o-Tangaroa, a meeting-house at Tokomaru Bay, was bought by Samuel Locke, of Napier, for the Canterbury Museum. It had been intended as a residence for Henare Potae. Several carvings from a meeting-house at Tumoana (East Cape), which were used as part of a Maori display at the Dunedin Exhibition in 1889, are now in the Dominion Museum. The British Museum and other famous overseas institutions also contain specimens of East Coast carvings.

According to the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology, Vol. XIII, No. 2, p. 78 (1931), a secret carved burial-house stood at Hurimoana (Manutuke, Poverty Bay). In 1925 Mrs. J. Woodbine Johnson (a daughter of Tiopira and Maora Pani) told W. J. Phillipps that it page 375 was more or less circular, and about 50 feet in circumference. She was only a girl when she stumbled across it in 1868, and it was then rapidly disintegrating. It contained about 30 small compartments, and a closed chest lay in each on the ground. These chests were from 5 feet to 8 feet long and were of two kinds—one in the shape of a canoe, and the other more like a food bowl. Five of her ancestors were buried there. Her grandfather (Tawheo Pohatu) was buried standing, as became so great a warrior. When the building decayed the bones were removed elsewhere.

In recent years several very fine meeting-houses have been built in the Poverty Bay-East Coast-Wairoa area. Incorporated in them, to afford greater stability and to ensure greater comfort, are materials never dreamt of by the forbears of the present Maori generation. Poho-o-Rawiri, on Kaiti, which was opened in 1925, has concrete foundations, a steel ridgepole (to comply with the borough building regulations, and the first to be used in a Maori meeting-house), walls of timber, and a galvanised iron roof. Electricity is the form of lighting used. Rich carving adorns the front of the building, and, within, in addition to many attractive light carvings, there are beautiful decorative panels, displaying, in great variety, intricate and artistic tukutuku patterns. Dimensions: 83 feet × 39 feet.

Whitireia, at Whangara, which was opened in April, 1939, is, like its neighbour (Waho te Rangi), a memorial to Paikea, but is much larger. Waho te Rangi has a frieze depicting Paikea's journey to New Zealand on the back of a whale; above the gable of Whitireia there is a carved whale, with Paikea astride. Carved figures representing famous ancestors stand along the walls of Whitireia. According to tradition, the original Whitireia stood on Whangara Island, and was erected by Paikea about 600 years ago.

Takitimu, the carved meeting-house at Wairoa which honours the memory of Sir James Carroll, was opened in 1938. It is almost as large as Poho-o-Rawiri, and is described by Phillipps (supra) as “more nearly resembling a modern assembly, or dance, hall than do most of the later houses.”

The Uepohatu Memorial Hall at Ruatoria, which was opened by the Governor-General (Sir B. Freyberg) on 14 September, 1947, is the largest meeting-house in the Dominion. It is 110 feet long and 40 feet broad and is built of wood and roofed with iron. The exterior is devoid of decorative work, but, within, there is a wealth of native artistry in the shape of carvings, tukutuku designs and painted scrolls.

On a rise at Tikitiki (E.C.) stands the most ornate Native church in New Zealand. It was erected as a memorial to the Ngati-Porou and Ngati-Kahunguna servicemen who made the supreme sacrifice during the Great War of 1914–18, and was dedicated on 16 February, 1926. Among those present was the Governor-General (Sir Charles Fergusson). A brass tablet on the baptismal font gives the year 1834 as the date of the baptism, at the Bay of Islands, of Taumata-a-Kura, the first Waiapu Christian Evangelist.

The Ngati-Kahungunu war memorial meeting-house at Nuhaka was erected by the Latter Day Saints Church. It cost over £20,000 and was opened on 27 August, 1949.