Maori Wood Carving

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  • Topic: Wood carving, Māori, New Zealand
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  • Published : February 2, 2013
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Maori Wood Carving|
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Maori Wood Carving

Introduction

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The art of woodcarving was brought to New Zealand by the relatives of the present Maori, who probably came to the islands around 1100 A.D (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002). Early Maori Wood Carving shows stylistic similarities with wood examples from eastern Polynesia, where the ancestors of the Maori came from (New Zealand's Premier Woodcarving site, n.d.). Examples of early Maori wood carvings are uncommon, however a number of them have survived due to the hiding of important carvings by immersing them in swamps during times of unrest. The soaking environment has consequently managed to conserve the wood of the carvings (New Zealand's Premier Woodcarving site, n.d.).

Wood Carving Style and Tradition
As the generations passed, a uniquely Maori carving style steadily began to appear, turning into what is known as the classic Maori style around 1500. Some carvings are over 500 years old. Unlike its simpler ornamented forerunner, typically for the classic Maori woodcarving is the keen rendered three-dimensional form which surface is engraved with intricate designs (The Metropolitan Museum Of Art, 2002).

According to one of the Maori tradition, the art in woodcarving was introduced to their ancestors by the cultural hero Ruatepupuke. In this story, Ruatepupuke's son Manuruhi offended Tangaroa, the sea god. As punishment, Tangaroa abducted Manuruhi, by transforming him into a woodcarving to decorate the gable of his residence at the bottom of the sea. Ruatepupuke went down to the sea, to search for his son, where he heard the carved ancestor posts of Tangaroa's house talking to each other. The posts revealed him where to find Manuruhi. Angered by the opression of his son, Ruatepupuke put fire into Tangaroa's house. He returned then to the world at the surface, bringing several carved posts and Manuruhi with him, and introduced the art of woodcarving to human race. The talking carvings in the story evoke the artistic standards Maori carvers desire to in creating their work. A master piece is said to "speak" to the viewer, while a less significant example remains silent (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002).

Te Toi Whakairo is the art of Māori carving, and Tohunga Whakairo were the master carvers - the great craftsmen. A very skillful carver was extremely considered. The Māori believe that the gods created and communicated through the master carvers with them (New Zealand in History, 2012). Carving used to be a tapu art, theme to the rules and laws of tapu. The pieces of wood falling sideways while the carver were working were never thrown away, neither were they used by making the fire for cooking the food. Women were not allowed to be near the carvings. The traditions, history, religion and language of the Māori people compose an important part of the carving art. For the Māori people, all things own a spirit (wairua), and a mauri (life force) (New Zealand in History, 2012). Cutting a tree was to fell down a relative of Tane, the god of forests and of man. Before committing such an act, a karakia (ritual incantation) was recited by the Tohunga, in order to ensure that the act of cutting an offspring of Tane could be carried out without risk (New Zealand in History, 2012). The Māori are different from other Polynesians because they preferred curves to straight lines in much of their carvings. Many carvings have the characteristic koru spiral form, similar to that of a curving stalk, or a bulb (New Zealand in History, 2012). It is sometimes said that every cut in the Maori carving must have a meaning and a purpose, but in actuality probably much of it is simply decorative. The number of carvers of the nineteenth century who had been taught by pre-European experts makes it highly possible that most of the teachers' knowledge was taught to the pupils (Maori of New Zealand Maori Art - meaning and symbolism, n.d.). There is no...
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