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No. 24 (October 1958)
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Feather box (waka huia) in the style of Northern carving. As the box was suspended from the roof, the bottom (shown here) was the most ornate. This specimen is stone tool work. Its place of origin is unknown. It come to the Dominion Museum from the Oldman Collection. The long rolling curi [ unclear: ] inear surface decoration, the images with demand heads, sinuous bodies and webbed feet, are all typical of the Northern style. (Photograph: Dr. T. Barrow.)


The waka huia or papahou was the treasure box of a chief or of a family group. It may be more rightly termed papahou, for it held many small treasured items of adornment other than huia tail feathers. Combs for the hair, tiki, greenstone and bone ornaments, valued feathers and other small treasures were all retained in the papahou under a very special tapu, the box being suspended from a rafter of a chief's sleeping hut, or kept in one of those small whatu rangi upheld by a single pole of considerable length. Many of the curious and remarkable pendants held in our Museums once graced a welcarved waka huia or papahou.

There were several different forms of waka huia or papahou, all more or less fully ornamented with superficial carving. Examples of some of the man groups are figured. A highly ornamental specimen has a raised carved lid with human or manaia figures (above). The lower surface is covered with running scrolls and spirals which have two plain ridges partially interlocking at intervals. The second figure illustrates

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Waka huia from the British Museum, with matching mania figures. (British Museum Photograph.)

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Papahou illustrating spirals. (British Museum Photograph.)

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Papahou illustrating rauponga. (Copenhagen Museum Photograph.)

matching manaia, a feature of Bay of Plenty (Arawa) carving. Here we have a common and fairly typical oblong box shape, with projections at the ends (one apparently broken) to hold the suspension cords. The third and fourth specimens are somewhat rounded at the ends with projecting lugs carved in the shape of human heads. Of these specimens the third exihibits the complete interlocking spiral with two plain ridges in the rauponga, while the fourth, apparently from Northland, is carved with conventional more modern type rauponga, the variety known as whakarare in which three plain ridges cross at intervals over the notched ridge.

Lastly we have an unusual type of treasure box of which no specific name is known to me and which exhibits a human form holding the box on his bent back. The specimen illustrated is a modern carving by Mr J. M. McEwen after an old prototype. It is worthy of mention that similar small boxes on the back of an alleged ‘fire god’ have been excavated in Peru.

We have Maori carvers in our midst; all too few in relation to the population. Why should not the great Maori families of today have their own carved waka huia, made to their own design. Here is a work for an ambitious young man or a group of ambitious young men. Let us start with simple types until we get used to our tools. Strong hands and resolute hearts are the ingredients required. The rest will follow. Many beautiful waka huia have gone overseas; but in recent years some have been returned.

Oustanding and interesting types are on view in the Dominion Museum. These are from the collection gathered together by the late W. O. Oldman, London, and purchased by the New Zealand Government. It is perhaps not remarkable that so many of the finest examples of waka huia are to be found in England, for this was a convenient type of gift wherewith to speed the departure of some pakeha well loved by the Maoris of his day.

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Modern papahou, carved by J. M. McEwen. (John Ashton Photograph.)