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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1931

A Maori Craftsman

page 20

A Maori Craftsman

One of the most interesting places in Wellington is the workshop of the Dominion Museum, where Mr. Hebberley, the Maori carver, works amidst a mysterious assemblage of old gate-posts, mouldering but beautifully designed pieces from whares, Maori mats and Fijian canoes. On a fine day the dimness of the room is emphasised by the brilliant sunshine outside, and gives added mystery to the rows of carvings round the walls and overhead. Hideous faces and poked-out tongues leer at one from the quaint "tikis," with their inevitable three-fingered hand, and their pawa-shell eyes glint coldly. On some of the panels are wonderful spirals, and a strange figure called a "mania," with one three-fingered hand and a beak. In the centre is a large war-canoe, for which Mr. Hebberley is carving new side boards, not with the old stone tools used by his ancestors, but with a steel chisel. When I first visited him he had just finished the beautiful casket for the ashes of Sir Maui Pomare. The rich brown of the carved wood was set off by touches of pearly pawa-shell, and by the green lizards which climbed up the sides, the Maori symbol of death, while on the lid were two of the weird-looking manias, carved in high relief.

But the most fascinating of all is Mr. Hebberley himself, a short man with a skin lighter than usual in a pure Maori, and with twinkle in his brown eyes. He has all the old Maori's contempt for the younger generation, who have grown up in European civilisation, and still greater scorn for tourists who twirl a poi, and then go away and show their friends how to do the poi dance. He is not easily drawn into conversation, but once fairly started, he will talk while there is anyone to listen; about

"Old, unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago,"

put forth his theories of the origin of the Polynesian race, and prove that his ancestors are the lost tribes of Israel. He is very interested in his work, and is not too modest to say that he is one of the few left in New Zealand whose carving is "the real thing"; it can be done only by a to-hunga, and is now a dying art; though often quite well imitated, an uninitiated person cannot capture the spirit of it, and modern tools make it too mechanical.

He is inclined to laugh at the pakeha's books on the Maori, which, he said, often contain tales (specially fabricated by them for the author's benefit. But he does not regret the white man's coming, considering that it saved their race from exterminating each other by tribal wars.

He would have gone on talking, and we listening indefinitely, but the rest of the party had left long ago, and the few of us who remained had

"Tired the sun with talking
And sent him down the sky."

I went away, wondering if he had been laughing at us too, but hoping for another opportunity of listening to such an agreeable talker.

M. M. N.