The Maori are the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand and are
famed for among many aspects of their culture; their carvings. Maori
carvings have been a big component of their culture and way of life.
Carvings were a way of expressing themselves and to the Maori culture;
they were expressing the gods in material form in the carvings.
This preordained that all the carving and other art forms were in
possession of spiritual power which was locally referred to as mana.
Thus the skill itself was considered sacred and from the sea god
called Tangaroa. This carving skill was passed down from generation
to the next and the whole learning process was by apprentice whereby
the novice was taken in by a traditional expert known as tohunga
and will over the course of time hone his talents but most important
learn the traditional and religious culture and beliefs of the Maori.
The most rudimental Maori carvings were the fishing hooks and were
made from bone. They have used a variety of material to make the
carvings and they include green stone to make human figures forms
and figures called hei-tiki, wood to make war canoes with different
intricate carvings/engravings, flutes, posts, wall panels and treasure
boxes. Bone was also in common use and it could either be whale
bone or cow bone. These were used to make jewelry that had symbolic
value and flutes. Shells were used for carvings for personal ornamentation
and the various figures and patterns portrayed had cultural and
religious connotations. It applied for the other carvings from wood,
bone or greenstone and whatever was brought forward out of them.
The different types of Maori carvings have found enthusiasts far
and wide, and in the modern world. But many people are only fascinated
by the intricate designs and the finesse of the pieces without regard
to the value and meaning they hold to the Maori. To these people
all around the globe, the carvings are for aesthetic and ornamental
value either as necklaces and pendants or as art pieces to complement
the furnishings in the home. The hei-tiki is most common and has
been replicated for contemporary purposes. This is to heightened
contempt from the purists who value the dexterous works put into
a piece by the Maori craftsmen and the historical as well as traditional
significance of the pieces. The hei-tiki as earlier mentioned are
carved human figures and are believed to be fertility charms. They
are the archetypical Maori artifact. What is of enthrallment is
that the original pieces from New Zealand are made from nephrite;
a precious stone locally called pounamu and green stone in New Zealand
English. The stone is both beautiful and hard thus making it very
labor intensive to work on it. They are worn during special ceremonies
around the neck hanging on plaited cord and its luster improves
with time. In traditional times, some hei-tiki were made of ivory,
teeth or bone of whales. The most common ones today have been produced
for trade and are made of cow bone.
Other notable Maori carvings are those of sea creatures especially
the whale, the manaia which bears a bird's head and marakihau a
sea monster with the human figure. There were also the bone fish-hooks
worn as ornaments symbolizing fertility and prosperity.
The Maori carvings that follow traditional designs and the fundamentals
of tradition, spirituality and legends though made on bone are appreciated
both for contemporary use and for the cultural meaning.
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