Exceptional and Rare Maori Canoe Prow, New Zealand

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Lot 125Y
Exceptional and Rare Maori Canoe Prow, New Zealand

Sold for US$ 55,000 inc. premium
Exceptional and Rare Maori Canoe Prow, New Zealand
tauihu
Wood, paua shell
length 50in (127cm); height 22 1/2 (57cm); width 14in (35.5cm)

Superbly and intricately carved with a powerful figurehead with a large domed and triangular head above eyes inlaid with iridescent paua shells, a diminutive nose and open mouth with raised tattoos around a protruding tongue. the body leaning forward with the arms sweeping back as wings and terminating with three-fingered hands, the lower torso with powerful hips, foreshortened legs and large feet with upturned toes; a central carved panel with two massive interlocking spirals of pierced technique gradually sloping downwards and terminating at a semicircular panel at 90-degrees with a tiki figure carved on the reverse side, and resting on a flat panel, decorated on the underside with a second, intricately and precisely carved openwork panel with similar scroll design; the superb, dark-brown patina evidence of significant weathering and age.

PROVENANCE
Reported to have been collected by Captain C. Knox Locke while serving with the 50th Regiment of Foot in New Zealand, 1863-1864
Wayne Heathcote, Brussels
Private New England Collection

Cf. Best, Elsdon, The Published Works of Elsdon Best; The Maori, Volume 1, Wellington, 1924, p. 36; and
Kaeppler, Adrienne, Polynesia: The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection, Honolulu, 2010, fig. 440.

According to David Simmons (personal communication, March 2015), the "size would suggest it from a six foot model [used to transport an important chief into the after-world], rather like the model canoe in Cologne which was used according to Northern tribal custom, for exposing a dead chief until his flesh had rotted and the bones could the (sic) be retrieved to be cleaned, painted and placed in the tribal burial cave. This is the most probable use and is somewhat supported by the evident wearing of the specimen. Some model canoes were used as food bowls to serve food at prestige feasts. This one carries the dedication to death under the prow carving so unless the feasters were slated to be killed that use is unlikely. Provenance is more difficult. The general style is East Coast to the Bay of Plenty...Some of the expected details have not been completed like the notches on the dividing pieces, perhaps it was made quickly when needed. An interesting piece."

'Canoes (waka) were among the most elaborately carved structures made in New Zealand, symbolically and metaphorically important in that they acted as a kind of mobile chiefly house, the chief embodying the whole "tribe"' (Hooper, 2006: p.128).

This exceptional and beautifully carved tauihu is either the prow of a waka taua (war canoe) or served as a reliquary to an important dead chief. It is a superb example of the pītau style of tauihu, distinguished by the powerfully carved figure at the front, with its protruding and defiant tongue, and the arms stretched out as wings. This figure most likely depicts Tūmatauenga (the god of war). It is a very early example of tauihu construction and carving. Waka taua were truly impressive vessels, up to 45 meters long and expressively ornamented. They were statements of power, prestige, and war prowess, hence fittingly used as reliquaries to an important dead chief to symbolically carry him to the afterlife, on a journey to an all-accommodating spirit world far away.
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Exceptional and Rare Maori Canoe Prow, New Zealand
Exceptional and Rare Maori Canoe Prow, New Zealand
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