Carvings from a tomb. “A small school of carving, possibly the art of a single man, appears to have been established at Tokaanu before the middle of last century. This school carved their figures with heads at right angles to the body. Of this school the tomb of Te Heuheu II said to be erected in the years 1850–51 may be taken as typical. Tukino Te Heuheu II, also known as Mananui, died in the large landslide at Waihi in 1846.
Taylor, in Te Ika a Maui, 1870, p. 174. supplies a small figure of the tomb as originally erected at Pukawa. Only three carvings of the tomb, unique in their style and presentation, are extant and in the Dominion Museum. These are the frontal supports for the roof and the facing board above. The vertical poles appear to have been adapted from ridge-pole supports for the roof of a superior house and may even be from a large house such as the one described in Hochstetter (New Zealand: Its Physical Geography, Geology and Natural History, 1867, p. 369). The horizontal facing board above appears once to have been used as the paepae of a superior house.
Two figures on the facing board are reproduced on this and the succeding page. In one the head is somewhat conventional; in the other it is realistic. The construction of hip and shoulder spirals is of much interest. Flattened pakati ridges partially interlock, and plain ridges do not always form a satisfactory ‘S’ curve. We note the use of relatively large fingers and thumb.” (Phillipps).
Many forgotten and half-forgotten facts about 132 carved houses in the south, west and north of the North Island of New Zealand have been gathered by Mr W. J. Phillipps. His record of three of these houses, from which photographs appear here, has been offered to Te Ao Hou. Earlier this year, the Government Printer published the entire collection
Woodcarving is one of the highest expressions of the Maori spirit. Maori woodcarvings at their best show remarkable versatility, sureness and mastery in the handling of form and symbolism. If art critics had studied them as they have Negro sculpture in Africa, or Aztec and Inca sculpture in America or Norse and Goth carving in Europe, no doubt Maori influence on modern art throughout the world would have been similar to these other ancient traditions.
We are still awaiting a creative critic to put the Maori art of carving in its right world perspective. In the meantime, we must be grateful for such patient research workers as Mr W. J. Phillipps, for his careful collections of facts about our carved houses. Mr Phillipps has previously published an inventory of carved houses in the Rotorua and East Coast districts (Records of the Dominion Museum Vol. 1, No. 2, 1944, and Dominion Museum Records in Ethnology Nos. 1 and 2) and a new book, to appear later this year, describes the “Carved Maori Houses of Western and Northern Areas of New Zealand.”
Whoever did not believe it in the past will agree, after reading this new book, that the tribal traditions in the woodcarving of the west and north of the North Island were distinctive and remarkable and their best production was by no means inferior to the best work of Arawa or Ngati Porou. Nor was carving much less prevalent in these areas. The number of houses listed in this book (132) is exactly equal to the number listed for the Rotorua and East Coast. The unfortunate fact is that, in the
A few paintings by d'Urville, Earle and J. T. Stewart are the only records of the powerful Tokerau houses, while in Taranaki we would be little better off but for some very fortunate finds in swamps mainly near Waitara. Waikato fared almost as badly, for apart from Angas drawings little had remained; and yet among the few extant museum pieces from ancient Waikato there is one—now in the Wanganui museum and called the Newman pare, origin unknown—which without doubt is among the greatest woodcarving ever done in New Zealand.
These remains of remarkable beauty testify to the extent of our loss. For it is quite clear that in Taranaki. Waikato, Tokerau and elsewhere, there existed in great plenty only a few generations ago, an art that would have been admitted anywhere in the world where it was known, but now this art has joined forever the spirit world it celebrated.
Carved House of Takerau, “Whare Runanga at Waikare, Bay of Islands. Through the courtesy of Mr J. G. Wilson, Netherby, Waipukurau. I have been enabled to have a photograph taken of a painting by J. T. Stewart, based on an original sketch dating from 1857. A number of f
tures of interest are worthy of comment. We notice the low sliding door with the relatively large well carved pare above and the inward slanting door posts or whakawal. Similar posts on the window also slope inwards above. There are indications of carving on the tahu end (pane) above the porch; also on the carved slabs (poupou) on the porch walls. The threshold board is absent. Stout wooden pegs fasten the amo to the maihi behind, a feature not hitherto noted, but probably once common. Evidently all rafters were well covered with design, and some ornamentation has been worked into the construction of back wall of the porch. The old custom of Maoris, particularly women, covering the mouth when sitting is well illustrated by the central figure in the group portrayed in front of the building.”
“This pare is undoubtedly old, and is one of eight that have been recovered from a swamp in the Bell Block, near Waitara. It is almost certainly a fragment of a carved house of which all other traces have disappeared. Now in the Dominion Museum, it was first figured by Hamilton in ‘Maori Art’. All figures are ridged longitudinally, the main central figure being very wide across the eyes, the head coming to a peak above. A remarkable variety of detail design exists on this pare, as I have already pointed out in ‘Maori Art’ 1946, pp. 3 and 4. This is one of the finest of all known Taranaki pare.”(Phillipps).