Art. I.—Notes on Two Maori Calabashes, with Carved Wooden Necks called Tuki or Ko-ano-ano.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 4th November, 1903.]
Plates I. and II.
The Maoris having abandoned their original arts, and their old methods of fashioning weapons and utensils, and their charming quaint carvings, it is desirable that real original relics of all kinds should be described and depicted ere they become lost; and this is all the more necessary as the country is being flooded with cheap untrustworthy imitations. Originally the Maoris devoted much labour to carving ornaments, and such carvings abounded in the pas, but through time and neglect many of the commonest have become rare.
Recently I bought these two large calabashes, with their artistically carved wooden necks or mouthpieces, and as I cannot find any detailed account of them in our literature or in the Transactions I put on record this description, their history, and their uses. My pair were discovered lying neglected in a Maori outhouse in the Wairarapa. They belonged to a Maori who said they belonged to his grandfather, and are believed to be a hundred years old. This is probably true, for the making of such articles has long been abandoned, and the few now existing show marked signs of age.
Each calabash consists of the rind of a gourd called hue, the seed-vessel of a plant brought in the canoes from Hawaiki. To the neck of each gourd is affixed, at its narrowest part, a wooden collar or mouthpiece quaintly carved. The whole is called a taha; the neck is commonly known as tuki,
or, rarely, ko-ano-ano. The whole was surrounded by a network of flax, a sort of large open knotted network with the various ends twisted together to form a handle. This flax-work was called kete.
The Maoris, having no knowledge of pottery, ingeniously used these gourds to preserve the flesh of birds for eating. Pigeons were plucked and dressed and then put into the gourd, and the melted fat of the pigeons was then poured into it until full to the neck, which was finally covered by the broad leaves of the rangiora plant. Elsdon Best says the gourd had often a wooden lid, but I have never seen one in any museum. Sometimes the calabashes were clothed in closely woven flax covers, and some were planted on three elaborately carved legs. The meat so preserved was known as huahua. When pigeons were scarce tuis or wekas were made into huahua. Rats were thus preserved—always with their skins on. In the old cannibal days they were occasionally filled with choice bits of human flesh.
At Toka-anu I first saw a pair of tukis. They were shown to me by their owner, a great rangatira, and were among his choicest possessions, and clearly he was extremely proud of them. They were jet-black, and smaller than mine; in fact, the entrance was so narrow that former ancestors of his used to call up a small boy whose hand used to fish out the dainties. Best says that in consequence they were sometimes called ngutu-iti. Best has seen them ornamented with feathers. These tahas belonged to the chiefs, and at great feasts they acted as choice centre ornaments.
One of our greatest Maori authorities says they were formerly common in the Urewera country, and were rarer about Taupo. As far as I can discover they were rarely seen south of this. They are now rare. Three or four specimens are in the Auckland Museum, and there is one in the Maori house of the Wellington Museum. I have seen no others except the pair at Toka-anu and my pair, and tukis are absent from many collections. Mair has seen them weighing 100 lb. when full. Mair told me that none are now being made—kerosene - tins do as well and are less trouble to get. Hamilton in his great work on Maori art figures one, but has only a brief reference to it. His pair of calabashes in the museum are minus the tukis.
Neither Tregear nor Williams in their dictionaries have the word, but Tregear gives a Mangarevan word putuki, “to draw together the mouth of a sack.” These tukis certainly draw together the necks of the calabashes, enclosing their meaty contents, which, in addition to the dainties above mentioned, sometimes were filled with dog-meat, of which Best says the hind quarters were most highly esteemed. On
rare occasions these calabashes were filled with fat worms. The Maoris were, therefore, well up in the art of preserving animal food in enclosed vessels, the interstices being filled with melted tallow.
It will be seen how rich is the mahogany red-brown colouring of these gourds, a result partly due to age and partly to the animal oil with which they were smeared inside and out. The Maoris now rarely grow these gourds, and the old people say that for some unknown reason they cannot grow them the same size as formerly. Mair has seen the gourds so large as to fill the two arms of any Native carrying them. My largest gourd is 46 in. in circumference, and its height from base to where the tuki is affixed is 13 in.
From the fact that I have seen only five specimens, all told, of these tukis, that there are three or four in the Auckland Museum and none here, I think I am justified in saying they are so rare now that they deserve fuller description, and to be embalmed in the pages of these Transactions.
These tukis, Mair tells me, were always made of the same wood, matai. Their degree of blackness depends partly upon their age and partly upon the amount of fat, and dirt, and smoke to which they have been submitted. Each tuki, being made of thick and hard wood, would outlast several generations of gourds, which were thin and brittle. The tuki was attached to the gourd by holes pierced at its lower end, through which flax was passed and then drawn through similar holes in the gourd. Each gourd near its narrow end was carefully pared down until it closely fitted the end of the tuki. The flax was then tightly tied, and the result was a very creditable piece of close-fitting workmanship. Outside, to cover the junction of the tuki and gourd, a broad strip of flax was very tightly tied. When the melted fat was poured in it filled all the crevices, and the huahua inside was preserved in an airtight chamber.
The Maoris used to preserve birds also in calabashes slit up in a different manner, of which pictures may be seen in White's “History of the Maori” They were frequently covered with a fine carving, necessarily very shallow owing to the thinness of the gourd. They were called papa, or kumete. White, though depicting with great care several specimens of papa, or kumete, does not depict a single specimen of a taha with a carved tuki. Moreover, the carving on a papa was radically different from that of a tuki.
The gourd of the larger taha is a rich mahogany redbrown, whilst the tuki is darker. The gourd is surrounded by flax knotted so as to form large diagonal four-sided figures surrounding the gourd and gathering together to be formed into a handle, thus making it easy to carry. It is quite likely
that the tuki is far older than the gourd. The smaller gourd was broken by being dropped whilst being carried on horseback, but the tuki is uninjured. Both tukis are made of matai. The tuki, or neck, of the larger calabash is 3 in. from top to bottom where it joins the gourd. Its circumference low down is 15 in. It is slightly bell-mouthed—it is 4 ¾ in. across the mouth, and is larger than most tukis. The other tuki is the same in shape and make, but it is smaller and is attached to a smaller gourd. The interior of each is quite smooth, and at the bottom it is pierced by several holes to fix it to the gourd. The carving of the larger tuki is in whorls like much of the tattooing on a Maori's face, these whorls running round the tuki. The carving is beautifully done in parallel curving lines in groups of three, with between each group a series of small pinnacles arranged symmetrically between each band of three continuous lines. To break up the monotony, at two points opposite each other there are fresh lines running from top to bottom of the collar at right angles to each other. The rim is smooth on top, but its circumference is broken, up by pairs of notches close together, but each pair equidistant from the others. The outside edge, which was originally a circle, has been pared down until it has become a seven-sided figure; the smaller tuki is similarly made into a fourteen-sided figure, but in each case only on the extreme outside edge of the rim. The tukis were always made circular. The smaller tuki is not notched in the rim, and the spiral curves wind uninterruptedly around the body.
These tukis seem to be excellent samples of Maori carving carried to its highest point. The gourds, with their rich red-brown colouring, surmounted by these exquisitely carved solid wooden necks, form really beautiful specimens of Maori art, and it is no wonder they were highly prized ornaments at big feasts.