Māori carving or whakairo has developed over the centuries. The main mediums worked are wood, pounamu (nephrite jade) animal and human bone and onewa (basalt).
Māori carving is unique in the world as each taonga (treasure) encompasses three main kaupapa (ideas) - record of history and events, identity and decoration.
Although the Māori did not have a recorded history in the form of the alphabet and books, what many people fail to realise is that the carvings themselves are in actual fact recorded history. Every piece carved traditionally had a kaupapa and everyone could read them. The shape of the heads, position of the body as well as the surface patterns came together in each piece to record and remember events.
Wood - and its uses in Whakairo
Every tree in the world falls into one of two wood type categories - hardwood or softwood.
All native hardwood is slow growing producing growth rings close together, making the wood dense and heavy. These type of woods were mainly used for weapons, building structures and utensils that were required to last a long time. The following is a short list of native hard woods:
Softwood is the opposite of hardwood, fast growing, with growth rings wide apart and light. This type of wood was mainly used for waka taua (war canoes); large, decorative carvings like poupou (wall carvings); as well as the carvings on the front of whare hui (meeting houses). The following is a short list of native soft woods:
Tips for Carving Native Wood
The following list comprises a few tips to carving native New Zealand wood.
Pounamu - Nephrite Jade
Pounamu is found only in the South Island of Aotearoa (New Zealand). This is why, the South Island is sometimes called Te Wai Pounamu, the greenstone water. This variety is native to here, and cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
The characteristic of pounamu, that stands it apart from other types of jade are as follows:
The most prized bone is whale bone. Carvers in Aotearoa (New Zealand) need to hold a certificate issued by DOC (Dept of Conservation) before they are allowed to collect, buy or sell any whale bone artefacts, pounamu, native birds and/or feathers.
The most common bone that is around and carved today is beef bone. Sometimes deer antler, goats teeth or bull horns are used instead. Beef bone, when polished is a clean white. As whale bone has a marble look about it or an off yellowish white colour, other artists try to imitate this by staining the beef bone with tea, shoe polish and dyes. If you ever buy a beef bone that does not have a clean white colour - it has been stained - don't get fooled!!!
How To Do A Bone Carving
When carving bone, you must always ensure that there is adequate ventilation and always wear a mask when grinding or shaping.
Māori people used to, and some still do today, carve stone, apart from pounamu which has already been discussed. Stone, like wood, comes in hard and soft as well as medium. Soft stone are mainly volcanic or igneous, for example pumice stone.
Medium stones are mainly sedimentary types, for example Hinuera (a type of sandstone and one of the early stages of pounamu).
Hard stones, also known as complimentary stones, are onewa (basalt), grey wacke argelite and obsidian.
Here's a few nice pictures of whakairo.
Guardian of the Ocean
Opposite is shown a bone carving entitled "Tangaroa". Here's a little of it's meaning.
For lovers of the ocean and the sea, Tangaroa is the Māori Guardian of the ocean, traditionally known for his power and protection over the oceans and the seas.
Tangaroa is one of the children of Ranginui (the Sky Father) and Papatuanuku (the Earth Mother).
The fin reminds you to be well balanced in life and to stay on course.
This page last updated 06/07/2003 02:11:44 AM
All materials on this site © J.M.Wilson 2001-3, unless otherwise stated.
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