Monday, August 12, 2013
MAORI DESIGNS AND CARVINGS
The Maoris are the original Polynesian settlers of New Zealand. They brought with them styles of artifacts current on their home islands, but the need for canoes and houses, together with the abundance of soft timber and hardstone for tools, facilitated an art tradition that developed for hundreds of years. This artistic development can be clearly seen in what the Maori refer to as te toi whakairo, or the art of Maori carving.
Carving was a sacred, honored and cherished profession. The master carvers were men of distinction and fame. The Maori people shared the Polynesian belief that the artist was a vehicle through whom the gods created and communicated. The carvers were seen as carrying on a much respected and highly valued art form. This view is still prevalent in Maori society.
Wood was not the only material the Maori carved. On the South Island, they found large deposits of jade, which they call pounamu, or green stone. The predominant color of New Zealand jade is green, but there are tints that are nearly white, and shades appearing almost black. The stone also ranges from translucent to semi-opaque. The Maori made the jade into weapons, tools, and ornaments. Jade was also a valued trade item.
Maori designs were based on spiritual beliefs, combined with nature and necessity. The fish-hook design became prevalent because fish was their main source of protein, as well as an important item of trade, and a factor in calculating the standing and wealth of a tribe. Another shape that is almost an essential part of any carving is the koru, or spiral. The koru was inspired by the fern plant, which sends up a narrow shoot with a curled-over tip. Fern root was also a food source. It was beaten with stone or wood to separate out stringy internal fibers, flavored with flax honey or berries, and made into cakes. Depending upon the way the koru shape is used, it can represent growth, life or movement. The three pendants pictured are variations of this spiral shape.
Carved on the lid of the box pictured is a stylized version of the New Zealand night bird, or Ruru. The human figure was also a widely used subject.
I've covered only a small sampling of the many beautiful Maori designs. The Maori of today continue to carve, using traditional as well as new interpretations of established designs. It is my hope that te toi whakairo will live on in future generations.