Maori Art and Architecture "Maori art is inseparable from Maori culture. It is like a living organism that exists in the spirit of our people and drives them toward wider horizons and greater achievement."
The principal traditional arts of the Maori may be broadly classified as carving in wood, stone, or bone, geometrical designs in plaiting and weaving, painted designs on wood and on the walls of rock shelters, and, finally, tattooing .
Most of the Maori treasures now admired as art were originally created for practical or functional purposes, and are regarded by Maori as taonga tuku iho, prized possessions handed down from their ancestors.
To consider such entities as carved houses, canoes, paddles, fishing gear, weapons, agricultural implements, musical instruments, fine cloaks, and other heirlooms merely as art, to appraise them solely in terms of their adherence to formal or decorative norms, is to deprive taonga of the significance they hold within the belief and value systems of the living culture that Maori nurture.
Maori carvings, with very rare exceptions, are not religious, but secular. They do not represent idols, but renowned ancestors of the tribe.
Carving was regarded as a tapu activity which had to be carried out under certain ritual restrictions to protect the artists, the intended users or owners, and the community at large from supernatural harm.
Tapu and Noa
Tapu was one of the strongest forces in Maori life and had numerous meanings and references.
Tapu can be interpreted as "sacred", and contains a strong imposition of rules and prohibitions. A person, object or place, which is tapu, may not be touched or even in some cases approached. For example, in earlier times, tribal members of a higher rank would not touch objects which belonged to members of a lower rank.
Similarly, persons of a lower rank could not touch the belongings of a highborn person. Certain objects were particularly tapu, so much so that it was a dangerous act to even touch them, apart from suitably qualified priests. A breach of "tapu" could incur the wrath of the Gods and death was the penalty for serious infringements of Tapu.
Noa, on the other hand, is the opposite to tapu and includes the concept of common.
Noa also has the concept of a blessing in that it can lift the rules and prohibitions of tapu.
Protocols for carving
Before a tree could be felled to be carved, a karakia to Tane Mahuta asking permission for the tree was necessary.
Food was not allowed where carving was in progess.
Smoking was prohibited while carving was in progress.
Chips and shavings could not be blown off the work by the carver, however they could be brushed or tipped away.
Chips from carving could not be used to fuel a cooking fire.
The essential whakapapa histories were primarily recorded in the carvings on and in the wharenui (meeting houses) of the people, as well as on the waka (canoes) and other buildings and dwellings. Carving featured also on the weapons, storage containers, walking sticks, day to day implements and tools, as well as jewellery used in the daily and ceremonial lives of the people.
Carvers use materials such as wood,
bone and stone.
Carvers had a special place within traditional Maori community life and were charged with the responsibility of passing on their knowledge, with the karakia (prayers) and processes that would maintain the knowledge and heritage uniquely associated with the carver's role from Master to student, within the context of kaitiakitanga (stewardship and guardianship of the life sustaining capacity or mauri of the land, the sea, the forest and the people.)
The cultural significance of many carving projects meant that Maori carvers spent considerable periods of time when they were themselves regarded as tapu or sacred.
Ta moko (tattooing)
In pre-European Māori culture, many if not most high-ranking persons received moko, and those who went without them were seen as persons of lower social status .
Receiving moko constituted an important milestone between childhood and adulthood, and was accompanied by many rites and rituals . Apart from signaling status and rank, another reason for the practice in traditional times was to make a person more attractive to the opposite sex.
Men generally received moko on their faces, buttocks (called raperape) and thighs (called puhoro).
Women usually wore moko on their lips (kauae) and chins.
The head was considered the most sacred part of the body, and because tattooing caused blood to run the tattoo craftsmen, or "tohunga-ta-oko", were very tapu persons.
There were certain prohibitions during the tattooing process, and for the facial tattoo in particular sexual intimacy and the eating of solid foods were prohibited. In order to overcome this, liquid food and water was drained into a wooden funnel, to ensure that no contaminating product came into contact with the swollen skin. This was also the only way the tattooed person could eat until his or her wounds healed.
Since 1990 there has been a resurgence in the practice of moko for both men and women, as a sign of cultural identity and a reflection of the general revival of the language and culture.
Not all moko applied today is done using a tattoo machine. Recently there has been a strong revival of the use of uhi (chisels).
Also called a wharenui (literally "big house") or whare rūnanga ("meeting house")
The whare whakairo is the focal point of the marae.
It is usually symbolically designed to represent the chief and his ancestors.
The older people have the authority on the marae, and they impart to the young people traditions and cultural practices including legends , songs or the arts of weaving or carving .
Outside, in front of the wharenui and at it's top is a "tekoteko", or carved figure, which is placed on the roof and at the entrance to the whare. The tekoteko represents the ancestor's head. The "maihi", or carved parts of the tekoteko which slope downwards from the whare, represent the ancestor's arms, held out as a welcome to visitors.
The pole, which runs down the centre of the whare from front to back, represents the ancestor's backbone. This is a very solid piece of wood which is used, as when the backbone is strong, the body is strong. The rafters from the carved figures on the inside of the whare represent the ribs of the ancestor.
In one tradition, the wharenui (meeting house) is seen as a metaphor for the world. On the outside of the house is Te Pō, or darkness. On the inside is Te Ao Mārama – the world of light. The floor represents Papatūānuku (the earth mother). It is connected by the posts of the house to the ridgepole. This symbolises the connection between her and Ranginui (the sky father).