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Volume 53, 1921
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Art. XLIX.—Maori Decorative Art: No. 1, House-panels (Arapaki, Tuitui, or Tukutuku).

[Read before the Auckland Institute, 20th December, 1920; received by Editor, 31st December, 1920; issued separately, 12th August, 1921.]


Maori decorative art, as exemplified by definite patterns and designs, found expression in the following forms :—


Tattooing on the human figure (moko).


Carving on wood, bone, and stone (whakairo).


Painting on rafters of houses (tuhi).


Weaving of coloured threads in the borders of dress cloaks (taniko).


Plaiting of coloured elements into floor-mats and baskets (raranga).


Lattice-work in house-panels (arapaki, tuitui, or tukutuku).

The last division, house-panels, whilst frequently mentioned, has never received the detailed attention it deserves. Archdeacon H. W. Williams has given the best description of the patterns, but, as he dealt with them only as part of his article on “The Maori Whare,”* I venture to add a few details, in the hope that other observers may be induced to criticize and to add still further to the material contained in this paper.

Decorated panels formed an important finish to the large meeting-houses and the carved houses of chiefs of any standing. A carved house without lattice-work stitched in patterns, no matter how simple, had an air of incompleteness, or even, poverty, that the old-time Maori felt was not in keeping with the prestige that a well-carved house should convey. In olden days, when the houses were lined with reeds, the art of panel-decoration was universal. With the change of building-material due to civilization the art began rapidly to disappear. In some districts, such as the Bast Coast and Hot Lakes, it survived even when wooden walls and corrugated-iron roofs replaced the thatch of the old days; the Maori form of the house remained. The carved woodwork and painted rafters demanded the retention of the appropriate lattice-work panels. Owing to European influence in providing motives, and colouring-matter in Judson's dyes, the panels, in many instances, became more complicated in design, and, owing to the introduction of greens, violets, and other colours unknown to the tattooed craftsman, more inartistic in effect. In other parts of the country, again, fluted boards and painting superseded the simple but more artistic panels of old. In the North Auckland Peninsula, where the European form of wooden hall with side windows entirely replaced the Maori type of building, the art disappeared completely.

The Panel-space.

Before going on to the panel-decorations it is necessary to describe how the panel-spaces are formed in the typical Maori house. To do this I cannot do better than quote from Archdeacon Williams's article already mentioned: “The framework of the sides, pakitara, consisted of upright slabs of wood set in the ground. These slabs, poupou, were from 1 ft. to

[Footnote] * Rev. H. W. Williams, Jour. Pol. Soc., vol. 5, pp. 145–54, 1896.

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3 ft. wide. In ordinary houses the height of the poupou above ground was somewhat under 6 ft. They were, of course, set opposite one another at even distances. The intervals were, as a rule, a little wider than the poupou. The upper ends of the poupou were secured to a batten, kaho paetara, placed behind the poupou and lashed to notches or holes in the corners of each. A skirting-board, papaka, was formed by slabs placed between the poupou. These slábs were rebated from the front at the ends to come flush with the faces of the poupou.”

The panel-space is thus defined by the poupou on either side, by the kaho paetara above, and by the papaka below. This is the nomenclature of the East Coast. The Arawa people of the Hot Lakes district, and the Whanganui on the west, call the upper cross-piece the kaho matapu. The lower skirting-board is called the paekakaho by both tribes, whilst the Arawa gave it an additional name, poitoito. In the best houses both cross-pieces were often carved. In other good houses the upper piece was ornamented by bindings of flax or kiekie, and in more modern times by painting. The panel-space was called moana by the Whanganui people.

The Elements of the Panel.

The elements from which the decorative panel which fills up the panelspace (moana) is formed consist of three portions—two rigid and one flexible. These, which form the groundwork, may be called, in terms of wickerwork—(a) vertical stakes; (b) horizontal rods; (c) a flexible material, which, threaded through the above, forms the patterns and designs of the panel. External to the lattice-work panel is the ordinary thatching of the walls; and in some of the common type of dwellinghouse even the vertical stakes of reeds may not be used. Hence we are justified in regarding all the elements used in the formation of the panels as not being essential to the construction of the wall, and thus being primarily decorative in origin.

(a.) Vertical Stakes.—The vertical elements formed the outer layer of the panel. They are composed of the flower-stalks (kakaho) of the toetoe (Arundo conspicua). A single layer of kakaho was placed close together vertically to fill up the panel-space. Hori Pukehika, of Whanganui, states that the flower-ends and the butts were placed alternately so that an even width might be maintained, and great care was exercised that an even number should fill the panel. In some of the Rotorua work this has not been followed out, and the number of stakes is often odd. Where the cross-rods were narrow each vertical reed formed an element for threading purposes; but where the former were wider than usual two reeds were included as a single element in threading. In the sleeping-houses (wharepuni) the vertical lining of kakaho was considered sufficient decoration. In later years Maori have in several instances had specially-cut fluted boards made at the sawmills for lining their more modern houses. This represents the kakaho stakes in more durable material. Hence the conservative Maori artistic sense of his old-time decoration is appeased, and at the same time deference is paid to the European desire for durability. Some say that it is a labour-saving device, due to laziness.

It is in connection with the parallel arrangement of the flower-stalks, as the sole lining of the house-walls or under the roof, that the following proverb is used: He ta kakaho e kitea, he ta ngakau e kore e kitea (A defect in the arrangement of kakaho is seen; a defect of the heart is not seen). This means that deceitfulness is not apparent on the surface.

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(b.) Horizontal Rods.—The horizontal elements form the inner layer of the panel. They were placed close together so as to cover completely the outer layer of kakaho, but leaving enough space between the rods to pass the flexible material through to form the patterns. In old houses the long straight stalks (kakaka) of the common fern (Pteridium esculentum) were used. In the better houses laths of totara (Podocarpus totara) or rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) were adzed out for this purpose. Wood that had lain in water for some time was sought after, as it split much more easily. The laths were shaped to an even thickness and width. The Whanganui people say that rimu was preferable to totara, as it did not fracture so easily. The laths were often painted red with haematite, or blackened by exposing to fire or rubbing with parapara, a black mud obtained from peaty swamps. These two colours were used alternately on an even number of laths. This held good in the East Coast and Whanganui districts. In the beautiful carved house in the Auckland Museum, which is of Arawa design, the number of laths of one colour is generally odd. Colenso,* in his description of the panels of a house that was made for him by the Hawke's Bay people, states that the coloured rods of black and red were in threes. One cannot help thinking that the Maori, no matter how skilled, were careless about some details in building for Europeans, as they did not have to live in the houses themselves. In many of the good houses in existence at the present time white paint has been added to the red and black of old. Paint has, of course, been used for the red and black, as it is more durable than the original material.

The rods or laths are called kaho tara by the Arawa, and kaho tarai on the East Coast. The Whanganui called them arapaki, and also used the same word for the entire panel, including the panel-patterns to be described later.

In some of the very modern houses fluted boards have been placed horizontally across the panel-space to represent the transverse arrangement of rods. A variation in the arrangement of the rods is seen in some of the meeting-houses near Te Puke, in the Bay of Plenty. Here the rods, instead of being horizontal, run diagonally across the panel-space. This method is modern and is used with some of the panels to lend variety.

(c.) The flexible material for stitching the design consisted of (1) flax (harakeke, Phormium tenax), (2) kiekie (Freycinetia Banksii), (3) pingao (Scirpus frondosus).

Kiekie was preferred to flax, as it had a whiter colour after preparation. Pingao was used for its orange colour, but was only procurable in certain localities on the sandhills near the coast. The long leaves of these plants were shredded with the thumb-nail into strips of from a tenth to an eighth of an inch in width. The strips were placed in hot water and then scraped (kaku) with a shell, to remove part of the outer epidermis covering the fibre. They were then doubled over, tied into hanks, and hung up to dry. When dry the kiekie and flax became white, whilst the pingao retained its rich orange colour. Some of the kiekie and flax strips were dyed black to add further colour-variety to the decoration. The method of dyeing was the same as in the preparation of flax-fibre (muka) for dress cloaks. The scraped material was soaked in an infusion of the bark of the hinau (Elaeocarpus dentatus), which acted as a mordant. It was then rubbed with, or steeped in, the black peaty mud (parapara) above referred to. On drying, the strips assumed a permanent black colour.

[Footnote] * W. Colenso, Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 14, p. 50, 1882.

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Tumatakahuki.—Archdeacon Williams points out that in all well-made panels a vertical stake, called a tumatakahuki, passed down the middle of the panel and was fixed to the face of the rods by a special stitch. The Whanganui people maintain that the purpose of the stake was to keep the transverse rods in position, the ends of the stake being fixed behind the upper and lower cross-pieces of the panel. The stake consisted of a rounded piece of wood, which was sometimes replaced by lengths of aka vine where the decorative effect of bulging out the stitching was all that was desired.

Method of Stitching.

The process of threading the strips of flexible material between and around the stakes and rods has been termed “stitching” by Archdeacon Williams. The Maori use the word tui, or tuitui, for the process; and, whilst this may mean either threading or stitching, it is now generally applied to the latter. The Whanganui call the decorative pattern a tui, as, He aha te tui o te whare o mea? (What is the stitching of the house of So-and-so?) The Arawa apply the term tuitui not only to the pattern but also to the entire panel.

The stakes and rods being in position, the tohunga, or skilled craftsman, took up his position inside the house, whilst an assistant stood outside with strips of material. The tohunga was responsible for the patterns, whilst the assistant might be entirely ignorant of them. A woman could act as an assistant outside, but she could on no account enter the house until after its completion, and after the ceremony for removing the tapu had been performed. The tohunga used a wooden implement, rakau hei tui (stick for stitching). One end was sharpened, whilst the other was rounded and had a loop of flax through it with which to hang it on the wrist. It was called a huki. The tohunga, having decided on his pattern, thrust the huki through one of the interspaces between the rods and stakes, and the assistant followed the huki with a strip of material. The tohunga returned it through the appropriate interspace, and so the process went on. In modern times the panels have been completed separately and then fitted into the panel-space.

Stitches or Strokes.

It will be evident from the arrangement of stakes and rods that the rods fill up the interior surface of the panel; enough of the stakes (kakako) can, however, be seen in the slight intervals between the rods to indicate the spaces between them. The whole panel-surface is therefore divided up into a number of small regular squares—or, strictly speaking, rectangles, as the stakes and rods are rarely exactly the same in width. The Maori craftsman had before him a series of squares upon which to stitch the patterns that the limitations of scope and experience allowed. It is interesting for the Maori to know that the pakeha, in the evolution of the individual, commenced the art of stitching at exactly this stage. Some few years ago the first lesson that pakeha girls received in sewing was upon a piece of canvas or material woven in a coarse plain check—that is, in small squares. Upon this material the white child sewed her first sampler. In Barrie's play “Peter Pan” the drop-scene was painted to represent the little heroine's first sampler. The white child,

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Fig. 1.

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with steel needle, fine cotton thread, and a series of small squares composed of the warp and weft of some soft material, was faced with the same problems as the tattooed tokunga, with wooden huki and coarse strip of flax, standing before a panel of squares composed of rigid stakes and rods. In each case the needle could be passed only through the intervals between the two elements at the corners of the squares, and in each case the stitch had to pass diagonally across the square. Experience taught Maori and pakeha alike that the working of the crossed stitch into patterns was the simplest way of combining utility with decorative art. In the pursuance of art the two diverged. The white child, with the larger scope of more squares and the suggestions of teachers, went on to cross-stitching trees and animals. The brown adult, restricted by space and knowing no outside influence, never ventured beyond simple geometrical designs.

The actual stitches used in panel-work may be divided into threc: (1) cross-stitch, (2) single stitch, and (3) overlapping wrapped stitch.

(1.) Cross-stitch.—This stitch is the one most commonly used. The strip, after passing diagonally across the front of the rod corresponding to a square space, was taken round the back of the stake horizontally and, emerging to the front, crossed over the first stroke, forming a cross-stitch as shown in the patterns. According to Williams, this stitch was called pukanohi aua (herring's eyes) on the East Coast. The Arawa called it purapura whetu (star-seeds). Both names seem to be derived from the fancied effect of the stitch and not from the technique. The Whanganui call it kowhiti (to cross). They also apply the term to a special pattern. The Whanganui say that the cross-stitches in a pattern should be of an even number, except of course, where an angular pattern demands a single cross-stitch at the points of the angles. The East Coast people and the Arawa do not seem to be so wedded to even numbers. In Williams's diagram of the poutama pattern from the East Coast the cross-stitches form odd numbers. The same is true of some of the Arawa patterns in the carved house in the Auckland Museum.

(2.) Single Stitch.—In this stitch the strip crossed the squares once. With it, continuous rows of chevrons and lozenges were formed. Williams records that on the East Coast the zigzag lines formed by continuous rows of chevrons are termed tapuae kautuku (bittern's footprints) and waewae pakura (swamp-hen's feet) according as the lines were vertical or horizontal. The lozenges were termed whakarua kopito. The Arawa call the lozenges waharua. With this stitch the single lines are separate and distinct, no other stitch crossing them. So far as I know, not more than three squares were crossed by one stitch. This was probably the result of experience, as too long a stitch would prove an insecure binding, and where unsupported by other crossing stitches would be apt to loosen and be dragged or snapped by catching in other objects.

(3.) Overlapping Wrapped Stitch.—This stitch was primarily used to lash the vertical stake, tumatakahuki, to the middle of the panel. The stitch was made as follows, with the stake in position : Following the course of a single strip as shown in fig. 2, it will be seen that the strip, emerging from the interspace above rod 1, round which it has been wrapped, crosses the stake downwards and to the right. It is pushed through the interspace between rods 3 and 4, on the right of the stake, after having crossed three rods. It is wrapped round rod 3, and emerges to the front through the interspace between rods 2 and 3. It now passes obliquely down to the left, crossing itself and three rods, and passes back in the interspace between

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rods 5 and 6. It is wrapped round rod 5, reappears in the interspace between 4 and 5, and again, obliquely crossing three rods, disappears between 7 and 8. It is wrapped round rod 7, and continues in like manner to the bottom of the panel. If we term this strip “sinistral a,” reference to the figure will show that it has secured, by wrapping, one side of the rods 1 and 5 on the left, and 3 and 7 on the right. A second strip, “dextral a,” commencing at rod 1 on the right, will secure the opposite sides of the rod already wrapped—namely, 1 and 5 on the right, and 3 and 7 on the left. This will render rods 1, 3, 5, and 7 fully secured. A third strip, “sinistral b,” commencing at rod 2 on the left, will wrap rods 2 and 6 on the left, and 4 and 8 on the right. A fourth strip, “dextral b,” will wrap the opposite sides—namely, 2 and 6 on the right, and 4 and 8 on the left. Thus all eight will be fully secured. On completion, these overlapping wrapped stitches produce the effect shown in Plate LXIX. This detail would not have been entered into except for the Whanganui contention that originally the stitch was not decorative, but was a lashing of aka vine from the aerial roots of the kiekie—not to hold an ornamental stake in position, but to secure the horizontal rods in their place in the panel. Certainly the firm nature of the lashing would seem to prove that the contention is founded on fact.

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Fig. 2.

Patterns and Designs.

Patterns of the various stitches, in white, black, and yellow, were formed into pleasing designs, especially when the background of rods was spaced in red and black. Where every square was stitched a close design was formed. Variety was obtained by leaving some of the squares unstitched, thus forming an open design. There can be no doubt that the number of original Maori designs was comparatively few. This can readily be understood when to the limitation of scope is added the conservatism characteristic of Maori art. Some of the old men of Whanganui go so far as to say that in the days of their youth they saw only four designs in the old houses, and the majority of designs with which we are acquainted at the present day are due to European influence. The patterns and designs may therefore be divided into two classes—(1) Maori, and (2) post-European. These, again, may be described according to the stitches used.

Maori Designs.

(a.) Cross-stitch.

(1.) The simplest design, requiring no calculation, would be to fill up the entire panel-space with cross-stitches. This has been done, and the Whanganui maintain that it is one of the few original designs; but owing to its monotony it was abandoned, and its name is lost, and I was unable to procure it. The Arawa have a similar design, shown in Plate LXVI, fig. 1, but white and red stitches alternate. The red is modern, but the design and name are old. The name is Te Mangoroa (the Milky Way), from the massing of star-seeds (purapura whetu).

(2.) The Arawa pattern of alternate colours in a close design is resembled, in effect, by an open design where alternate stitches are left out. This is

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an old design, named kowhiti by the Whanganui. This is their name for the cross-stitch; but as applied to the design it conveys the idea of having crossed or leaped over spaces or squares. It is the commonest design in the meeting-houses of the Whanganui River. The Arawa have a more fanciful name—roimata (tears). In the example fig. 2, Plate LXVI, it will be seen that the general effect is a series of lozenges, but the lozenge name was never applied to it.

(3.) Another simple effect is vertical lines of ones or twos separated by blank spaces of a like number. The latter is seen in fig. 3, Plate LXVI. A variation of this is shown in fig. 4, Plate LXVI, where the lines, after crossing twelve rods, are continued down another twelve in the line of the blanks and then back to the original lines. These are Arawa designs, and are known by the poetic name roimata toroa (albatross-tears). The Whanganui have a similar design, which they call tuturu (leaking water).

(4.) The lowering or raising of the alternate vertical lines of “albatrosstears” and the introduction of short horizontal lines to connect the vertical ones led to an alteration of the pattern and resulted in the step-like design shown in fig. 1, Plate LXVII. This is a widely-distributed design, known as pontama both in the east and west. Of the meaning of the word I can get no satisfactory explanation. It is a very common pattern plaited in baskets and floor-mats, and also figures in the decorative borders of Rarotongan floor-mats (moenga). The motive was obtained from plaiting. In the example figured the design is closed by coloured stitches between the white, but in many cases the designs are left open. Pukehika, of Whanganui, maintained that it was not old as applied to panels.

(5.) From vertical and horizontal lines we pass to diagonal lines producing a continuous chevron or zigzag effect. The design might be closed or open, and the line of chevrons might run horizontally or vertically. In either case the design was called kaokao (side of the thorax) by the Arawa and East Coast people. The idea is derived from the bend of the ribs at the side. Fig. 2, Plate LXVII, shows a closed horizontal design, and fig 3, Plate LXVII, an open vertical one. With reference to fig. 3, Plate LXVII, viewed from either side, it will be seen that it is a continuous line of chevrons running vertically and enchanced on either side by repetition of its generating-lines.

(6.) Reference to fig. 3, Plate LXVII, shows that the chevrons are enchanced on either side. The elimination of the enchancement on one side would result in the effect being a series of continuous triangles although the motive is chevron. Fig. 4, Plate LXVII, shows a horizontal series of continuous chevrons, the generating-lines of which are composed of lines of two white cross-stitches and enhanced on the lower side by lines of two coloured stitches. The height of the chevron permits of only one white cross-stitch to represent the second line of enhancement. The effect, as stated above, is a continuous series of triangles, but the motive is chevron. This design is named niho taniwha by the Arawa (niho, teeth; and taniwha, a fabulous reptile).

(7.) Further evolution of the chevron design is shown in fig. 4, Plate LXVIII. On a wider panel, by producing the lines of the chevrons or making the points of the second vertical row coincide with the points of the first, the effect produced is a series of lozenges running down the middle of the panel. Both the lozenges and the original chevron motive forming the sides of the lozenges are enhanced internally by repetition of their generating-lines. The example figured is a closed design except for the small

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Fig. 1. Te Mangoca (the Milky Way).
Fig. 2. Stars, or romata (tears).
Fig. 3. Romata (tears).
Fig. 4. Romata tonoa (albatross-tears)

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Fig. 1. Poutama.
Fig. 2. Kaokao (human ribs).
Fig. 3. Kaokao (ribs, armpts).
Fig. 4. Nsho tanwha (dragon's teeth).

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Fig. 1. Konohi aua (herring's eyes).
Fig. 2. Waharua (double mouth).
Fig. 3. Waharua, or waharua kapto.
Fig. 4. Patiki (flounder).

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Overlapping wrapped stitch. In this example, from the English Church at Ohinemutu. the stitch has become purely ornamental, there being no vertical rod beneath.

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enhancing lozenges, which are open. The Arawa call this design patiki (flounder). It is probably of more recent origin; or, supposing it to be old, I think that it was the last of the simple combinations that the ancient Maori produced in geometrical designs. Other geometrical forms and combinations of greater complexity bear the impress of European influence—unconscious it may be, but still present.

(b.) Single Stitch.

As already pointed out, single stitching results in lozenges or continuous chevrons as shown in fig. 3, copied from Williams. Whilst the lozenge pattern No. 2 is common, the continuous lines of chevrons Nos. 3 and 4 are now rare. The chevrons are, however, the more simple pattern, and it is easy to see that by moving a square to the right or left horizontally in each succeeding row the points of the chevrons would be brought together and a series of lozenges would result. This no doubt is the origin of the lozenge in the single-stitch patterns.

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Fig. 3. (After Williams.)

(1.) Continuous rows of chevrons, horizontal or vertical, are named on the East Coast tapuae kautuku (bittern's footprints) or waewae pakura (swamp-hen's feet).

(2.) The lozenge pattern formed by single stitches crossing one square is named whakarua kopito on the East Coast and waharua by the Arawa (see fig. 3, Plate LXVIII). If this simple waharua design is compared with the roimata design in fig. 2, Plate LXVI, it will be seen that the effect is the same—namely, rows of continuous lozenges. The motive is, however, different. In the former it is rows of continuous chevrons produced by single stitch with each succeeding row arranged to produce the lozenge effect; in the latter it is rows of alternate crosses produced by crossstitches, and the lozenge effect is incidental.

Whilst the simple lozenge, with the sides occupying one square, may have been incidental in origin, it no doubt supplied the motive which led to lozenges of larger size being attempted. Fig. 2, Plate LXVIII, shows a design of larger lozenges which are enhanced internally by smaller ones. In the outer lozenge the stitch crosses three squares, and the inner lozenge two. It will be noticed that lozenges formed by the single stitch and the cross-stitch have their distinct names. This design is called waharua by the Arawa, there being no distinction between it and the previous design. There is a possibility of the enhanced waharua being of recent origin.

(c.) Overlapping Wrapped Stitch.

(1.) The pattern produced by this stitch over the tamatakahuki was named pihapiha mango (shark's gills) on the East Coast In addition to this name the Arawa called it whakaiwi tuna (to make like an eel's bones or eel's

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backbone). The Whanganui named it tukutuku, which is the name applied to the whole panel by the East Coast tribes. In well-panelled houses this pattern passed down the middle of the panel; and, though subsequently mainly decorative, the vertical stake was retained to throw the pattern out in relief. In some panels of the older houses this pattern, with the coloured rods, formed the only decoration. It was usual, however, for the full design to be the middle vertical line of pihapiha mango, with one or other of the patterns already described filling up the panel-space on either side. The panelling of the house Tama-te-kapua at Ohinemutu, Rotorua, consists of the poutama design with the pihapiha mango down the middle of each panel. Te Paku-o-te-rangi, a house belonging to the Takarangi Mete Kingi family at Putiki, Whanganui, has two lines of tukutuku or pihapiha mango, dividing each panel into three parts, in which the tuturu and kowhitr designs alternate. A further variation, shown in Plate LXIX, was the discarding of the stake and the use of the stitch alone for purely decorative purposes. The resulting pattern was exactly the same, except that it was flat. Such a design of five lines is shown in fig. 5 from the carved house Bangitihi in the Auckland Museum.

(2.) Fig. 1, Plate LXVIII, shows an Arawa design where the stitches cross two rods and overlap over the whole surface of the panel. It is called kanohi aua (herring's eyes) and is probably recent.

Post-European Designs.

It is extremely difficult to draw the line of demarcation between original Maori patterns and those of post-European date. The Maori patterns already described are very simple, and the same motive is used in regular sequence throughout the field of the panel. In the case of the house Te Paku-o-te-rangi at Whanganui, already mentioned, though there are two motives on the one panel, they are separated into definite areas by vertical stakes (tumatakahuki) and an arrangement of coloured rods. The post-European panels are more complicated, have more than one motive, and are combined less uniformly, though they may be symmetrical in one or more directions. From these distinctions it will be seen that the two classes conform to J. L. Myres's* definition of patterns and designs: “If a motive, or any combination of motives, is used in regular sequence it forms a pattern. Motives combined less uniformly compose a design, which may be symmetrical in one or more directions, or otherwise adapted by the balance, rhythm, or porportion of its parts to decorate a given field, more or less spacious, but of definite shape.” Though the terms may have been used somewhat loosely in this article, for practical purposes we may say that the old Maori work consists of patterns, and the post-European of designs.

The second distinguishing feature of post-European work, in many panels, is the introduction of non-Maori motives. By the arrangement of lines and spaces the Maori geometric combinations went as far as chevrons, triangles, and lozenges. The conservatism of his art prevented him from going farther, though other geometric figures could easily have been produced. With the advent of the European other motives were introduced, such as squares and octagons. Once the old patterns were departed from, lines and spaces were combined in various ways and obeyed only one rule, that of symmetrical balance in a horizontal direction. In some panels we can see where the craftsman, through a miscalculation, did not get his design quite

[Footnote] * Notes and Queries on Anthropology, p. 203. Royal Anthropological Institute, 1912.

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symmetrical laterally. Many of the post-European designs are rendered still harder to distinguish by the fact that in some of our best existing carved houses the panels were stitched by skilled Maoris, who gave them old names and maintained that they were original Maori designs. Some of them have old Maori patterns included in part of the panel. The application, however, of the above two points of distinction, and careful cross-examination, shows that the Maori craftsmen were probably unconsciously influenced by modern conditions. Their idea of good work was to make the designs as complicated as possible. The retention of some original Maori motives as part of the design, and the application of some old Maori name, made the new design an original Maori one in their minds.

There are several of these designs amongst the Arawa and East Coast people, but they are absent from the conservative Whanganui. A few have been selected to illustrate this class, and the names given are translated from the original manuscript written by one of the old men who assisted in making the designs. They may be roughly classified into—


Designs with an original Maori motive forming part:—

  • Fig. 4, kcotoretore makamaka. This is an alternative Arawa name for waharua, the single-stitch lozenge, which is shown in the lower third of the panel and gives its name to the whole design.

  • Fig. 5, whakaiwituna (eel's bones). This is seen in the upper third. It is the overlapping wrapped stitch without the vertical stake and with the original middle motive repeated twice on either side. The rest of the design is called mangati and mangata, from a fancied resemblance to a figure in the game of cat's cradle (whai).


Designs with non-Maori geometrical figures :—

  • Fig. 6, mumu. This takes its name from the squares or chequers in the upper or lower thirds of the panel, and will be dealt with later.

  • Fig. 7, pekapeka. Amongst its many meanings, pekapeka means a flat plait of nine strands. As there are nine vertical lines in the top row of the panel, the design probably takes its name from that. In the middle third the octagon appears as a motive, but, though the outstanding feature of the design, there is no name for it.

  • Fig. 8. This design, for which I have not the name, shows the double triangle, which, though of widespread distribution, was unknown to the Maori.


Designs with Maori motives not hitherto used:—

  • Fig. 9, patungarongaro (fly-flap), from the large lozenge in the lower third. Fly-flaps were made of flax plaited in the form of a lozenge and fixed to a handle. They were used to keep the flies away from a corpse when it was lying in state.

  • Fig. 10, hereweromanu (bird-spear). The bone point of bird-spears were usually barbed on one side, at intervals, in threes. The motive for the name is shown in the lower third, where the three barbs appear on both sides for the sake of symmetry.

  • Fig. 11, Rangitihi, the name of the carved house in the Auckland Museum. This is shown in the middle third of the design. The lower third of the design is called rapakaheru, the blade of the old Maori wooden spade, and is taken from a figure in cat's cradle that bears the same name.

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      Fig. 4. Kotoretore makamaka.

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      Fig. 5. Whakaiwituna.

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      Fig. 6. Mumu.

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      Fig. 7. Pekapeka

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      Fig. 8.

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      Fig. 9. Patungarongaro.

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      Fig. 10. Hereweromanu.

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      Fig. 11. Rangitihi.

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      Fig. 12. Mokoia.

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      Fig. 13. The coil of the string of the kite of Whakatau.

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      Fig. 14. Aka matua.

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  • Fig. 12, Mokoia, the island in Lake Rotorua. This is shown in the lower third, standing in Lake Rotorua. A similar figure can be produced in cat's cradle. The rest of the design is supposed to represent Matariki (the Pleiades).


Designs in which the names are purely fanciful.

  • Fig. 13, “The coil of the string of the kite of Whakatau, who flew his kite from a small hill at the time that Hine-te-iwaiwa went to search for Whakatau to avenge the death of Tuhuruhuru. The death was avenged. The motive of the name is seen in the middle third of the design.” Whakatau-potoki was one of the great heroes of the race when they were in Polynesia. He is famous in song, story, and incantation.

  • Fig. 14: “Aka matua (the firm root) is the name of this design. It is the firm root by which Tawhaki climbed upwards to the heavens to get his daughter Arahuta, who was born of his heavenly wife.”

  • Another design, with very slight modification, is described as follows: “Aka taepa (the loose root), is the name of this design. This is the way by which Karihi, younger brother of Tawhaki, attempted to climb to the heavens and nearly lost his life.” The story of the two brothers is told in detail in Grey's Polynesian Mythology.

An excellent picture of post-European designs, taken from Porourangi, on the East Coast, is shown in Hamilton's Maori Art, part 2, plate xiii, fig. 2.

Decorative Transformation.

The decorative transformation of artificial and natural objects to wood, stone, and other material has led to a complete classification of patterns and designs according to what the craftsman tried to express. Although I hold that in the original Maori designs the patterns came first and the names after, it may be interesting to classify our panels according to the accepted system.

(1.) Skeuomorphs.

These have been defined as forms of ornament demonstrably due to structure. The markings on the handles of Tongan clubs have been shown to represent bindings of sinnet. Under this heading, the cross-stitch, no matter what the subsequent pattern developed, and the overlapping wrapped stitch are undoubtedly skeuomorphs. They were bindings originally to fasten the rods to the stakes and keep them in position. Even the single stitch in the simple chevron patterns comes under this heading. As they were named after various things, however, they will be classified accordingly.

(2). Physicomorphs.

Under this heading comes any representation of an object or operation in the physical world. Here we get the first three patterns done with the cross-stitch: Purapura whetu (star-seeds); Mangoroa (the Milky Way) (fig. 1, Plate LXVI); tuturu (leaking water) (fig. 3, Plate LXVI).

(3.) Biomorphs.

Biomorphs are divided into—

(a.) Zoomorphs—representations from the animal kingdom. The only example in this group that has the whole figure represented was the patiki

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(flounder) (fig. 4, Plate LXVIII). Some of the other designs represent part of the animal, as waewae pakura (swamp-hen's feet) (fig. 3 in text); pihapiha mango (shark's gills) (fig. 5 in text); whakaiwi tuna (eel's bones) (fig. 5 in text); niho taniwha (dragon's teeth) (fig. 4, Plate LXVII); kanohi aua (herring's eyes) (fig. 1, Plate LXVIII).

(b.) Phyllomorphs—representations from, plant-life. In this group there are no examples. Doubtless owing to the impossibility of forming curves in the limited number of squares contained in a panel, that great motive in carving and rafter-painting, the curling shoot of the tree-fern, fails to appear.

(c.) Anthropomorphs, representing the human figure, should come under zoomorphs; but man, with his usual egotism, has placed himself in a class apart. In the old patterns the ribs are represented in the kaokao design (figs. 2 and 3, Plate LXVII).

The post-European designs I have left out of this classification. There are, however, most excellent examples of anthropomorphs in the great East Coast meeting-house, Porourangi, at Wai-o-mata-tini. Full-length portraits of ancestors are worked in the lattice-work of the panel, and duly labelled with the name neatly worked in cross-stitches.

The Evolution of the Panel.

The evolution of the decorative patterns is so bound up with the construction of the panel that we must deal with all the elements that compose it. There can be no doubt that the first attempt at decoration was the vertical arrangement of the flower-stalks of the kakaho in the panel-space. The vertical thatched bundles of raupo (Typha anguslifolia) as seen in the ordinary sleeping-houses (wharepumi) formed the basis of the house-wall and was complete in itself. In the Cook Islands, where the Maori ancestors sojourned ere embarking on the voyage to New Zealand, the house-walls are lined with thin vertical poles of the purau tree. These are peeled of their bark, and the thin white stakes lend a decorative effect to the walls. They are called kaka'o by the Rarotongans, who do not aspirate the h. The thin stakes of purau not being available in New Zealand, the Maori builder soon seized upon the long, thin, white flower-stalks of the Arundo as a substitute, or even improvement. Using them as a decorative lining, he applied to them the ancient name of kahaho. This type of decoration was carried on up under the sloping roof. Owing to the difficulty of working, it here remains stationary, whilst the easily accessible panel went on increasing in complexity of decoration. A few energetic spirits have, however, broken through the labour difficulty, for Te Wai Herehere, at Koriniti, on the Wanganui River, has cross-stitch decorations under the roof.

The next stage in evolution was the addition of horizontal rods. It seems probable that fern-stalks (kakaha), being easily procurable and requiring no special preparation, were the first material used. Variation of design seems to have demanded variation of material; and, whilst information can be obtained of house-panels decorated with kakaha rods with hardly any decorative stitching, I can gather no account of kakaha rods being used even as a foundation for elaborate stitching. To fix the rods to the stakes, ties or lashings were used. The lashings would natural y be of the same material as that used in the ordinary construction—namely, strips of flax. The simplest method would be to tie the ends of each rod

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to the stake behind. The simplest secure lashing would be a figure-of-eight turn round the rod and stake, and then tied. As the usual thing is to conceal knots, both from an artistic sense and to prevent their being rubbed loose, the knot in this case would be tied behind the stake and would result in the crossing of the figure-of-eight being in front of the rod. This is the origin of the cross-stitch in Maori panel-decoration. The cross-stitch—or, rather, the figure-of-eight lashing—is used by many people. The fishermen of the Murray Islands, in the Torres Straits, use it to lash the horizontal strips of cane and palm-leaf midribs to the cane rings in their were, or scoops used in tup fishing. A good illustration of this is seen in the Report of the Cambridge Expedition to the Torres Straits, vol. iv, fig. 170. The. modern medical man uses a continuous overlapping form of this lashing to bandage a dressing to an arm or leg. The single stitch was also used as a lashing, and, whilst not so secure as the cross-lashing, when restricted to crossing one rod it served its purpose. A better class of rod was desired for the more elaborate houses, and the wood of the rimnu, and totara were split into laths, delicately adzed to even shape, these, supplanting the more humble fern-stalk. The painting of these rods with the favourite red haematite of the Maori followed as a matter of course, and the artistic desire for contrast and variety demanded that others should be blackened. The law of even numbers that applies to rods and stitches in some districts may have followed from one of their systems of counting—the counting by twos. The value of the single and cross lashings of flax as a decoration did not long elude the keen eye of the old-time builder. In the many hours spent in the meeting-houses, with no books or other civilized methods of filling up the leisure hours, he had ample opportunity for studying the house-panels. Even whilst listening to speech, gossip, song, or story, his eyes could dwell on the stitches lashing the rods to the stakes. Irregular or sparsely scattered stitches offended his sense of symmetry and awoke the idea of more orderly arrangement. The surface of the rods became covered with ornamental stitches in addition to those necessary for binding. Lines, chevrons, and lozenges, that developed incidentally, were seized upon as motives and developed into definite patterns. These were named and handed on by the craftsman to his pupils.

The strip of flax, which at first was an ordinary binding, for decorative purposes was specially prepared to give it a whiter appearance. The kiekie, which is whiter than flax, was introduced. The contrast between the white stitched portions of the field and the darker unstitched portions in the open patterns suggested the possibilities of colour arrangement. Strips were dyed black, and the yellow of the pingao added to the scheme.

There must always have been some slight difficulty in keeping the cross-rods in position. The stakes at the back, in the course of time, are liable to slip down, perhaps at one side, and the rods become tilted. This is frequently seen in old houses. This led to the introduction of the vertical stake down the middle of the panel, and the overlapping wrapped stitch. In its useful stage the stake was braced against the upper and lower cross-boards, and, according to the Whanganui, entirely supported the rods. The stakes (kakaho), they held, were then of no functional use in supporting the rods, but were included in the decorative stitches to keep the lines of the patterns straight. This was followed by a stage where other arrangements, such as nailing, were made for fixing the panel; and the stake

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(tumatakahuki), now no longer braced above and below, became, with its lashing, purely decorative. A further recent development was the discarding of the stake and the retention of the lashing, either down the middle of another pattern or having the panel to itself with two or four repetitions. A very modern variation in the other direction is seen in the meeting-house Te Puru o Tuhua, at Taumarunui, on the upper Wanganui. There the stake is retained and the lashing represented by oblique bands of red, white, and black paint.

The further influence of European ideas and materials we have seen in the development of the post-European designs and the introduction of fluted boards to represent the kakaho. The limit is reached in the house at Taumarunui mentioned above. Fluted boards are run horizontally across the panel-spaces to represent the rods. They are painted red, whilst black and white cross-stitches are painted upon them in the form of designs.

A few years ago old houses in various parts of the country could be seen with panels completed in the various ways described. They served as links with the past, and marked the stages through which the house-panel had passed in the evolution of decorative art.

Names and Motives.

Professor Haddon* has pointed out that the investigations of Professors Ehrenreich and Karl von den Steinen in Brazil, and Mr. H. Vaughan Stevens in the Malay Peninsula, have, through oral information gathered from the natives, led to startling results as to the origin of simple geometrical figures in the decorative art of those regions. Links have been found establishing a connection between a recognizable though conventional representation of a motive and a geometrical figure that is unrecognizable. In these cases the geometrical figures were carved or painted. By these methods the craftsman had a wider scope for displaying his skill, and could produce a recognizable representation of his motive before the evolution into geometrical figures occurred. In Maori panel-decoration the craftsman was from the beginning confined by his field of small squares to geometrical figures. These, with the exception of the step and the large chevron, we have tried to argue were produced incidentally in the old patterns. The most important clue to the origin of the motives to be obtained by oral information is the name, with its meaning. Even with a good working knowledge of a language it is sometimes extremely difficult to say whether a geometrical figure developed incidentally and had a name applied to it subsequently, or whether the motive named really gave rise to the geometrical figure. In the old panel patterns, with the two exceptions named, the pattern came first and the name after.

The Maori has always been apt at naming places or objects from incidents that actually happened in his new home or were told of the old home in Polynesia, or from resemblances actually seen or attributed by his mythopoetic imagination. He could always find a name. According as the thought struck the tribal craftsman on the completion of his work, so he named his handiwork. The name was adopted by his assistants and became the tribal name. Thus we have a variety of names for the same motives amongst different tribes.

[Footnote] * A. C. Haddon, The Evolution of Art, 1905.

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The cross-stitch, used decoratively, remained simply kowhiti (crossed) with the Whanganui. Other tribes, if they had lashing names, abandoned them. The East Coast artist likened it to the eyes of a herring (pukanohi aua), whilst the Arawa, combining visional effect with imaginative speech, called it “the seed of a star” (purapura whetu). When the panel was completely covered without colour-patterns the Arawa saw a massing of star-seeds, and the pattern became the Milky Way (Mangoroa). With simple vertical Lines, the Whanganui craftsman saw in each separate stitch a resemblance to the distinct drops of water falling from a leak in the roof, and the name tuturu (leaking water) was applied. A similar idea occurred to the Arawa, in that the leaking or dripping water of the Whanganui became, with them, falling tears, and, as metaphor and poetic simile were in everyday use, the pattern was named roimata toroa (the tears of the albatross).

With the two diagonal lines forming a chevron, the Maori had to seek for a name amongst the natural objects of his environment. For the smaller chevrons, formed by the single stitch, it was hard to find. However, the East Coast people found it in the feet or footprints of a bird. Any of the larger birds would have done, but the early artists settled on the bittern (kautuku) and the swamp-hen (pakura). The small-chevron effect became “bittern's footprints” (tapuae kautuku) and “swamp-hen's feet” (waewae pakura). With the larger-chevron pattern, made with the cross-stitch, the naming was much easier. The commonest name for this pattern is kaokao (side or bend of the ribs). Another common name is maihi (the facing-boards of the gable of a house). Both names convey the idea of an angle or chevron on a larger scale than the small single-stitch pattern mentioned above. Though attention has been drawn to the fact that this pattern could easily be evolved on the panel, many Maori say that the motive was derived from the similar pattern on floor-mats, belts, and baskets. The floor-mat must be given priority, for plaiting was brought from Polynesia, whereas the panel patterns developed in New Zealand. Koki means “an angle,” and whakakokikoki, “to bend into angles,” was the name applied to the large, chevron pattern plaited in floor-mats and baskets. Whakakaokao is also applied to it. Both these names are used for the panel pattern. It seems probable, therefore, that this pattern was derived from an existing motive furnished by the sister art of plaiting. The other motive and name derived from a similar source, the poutama, or step pattern, has already been mentioned. Of the exact meaning of poutama and its bearing to this figure I can offer no suggestion.

The triangle required some triangular object to supply a name. This was found in the triangular tooth of the shark. Triangles in the carving of some of the New Guinea people are named after it. The ceremonial peace-axes of Mangaia, besides the K pattern, or tikitiki tangata, have small triangles carved on the handle. They are named mi'o mango (shark's teeth). The shark was a favourite food with the Maori, and the triangular teeth were set in wooden handles as a knife, the mira tuatini. No doubt sharks' teeth gave the name to the triangle amongst the Maoris, but his more figurative language expressed it in larger terms. Hence the Arawa name of niho taniwha (dragon's teeth). The Urewera call the triangle on the decorative borders of cloaks niho pakake (whale's teeth).

The lozenge motive leads to further complications in naming. The Arawa and Urewera call the lozenge waharua, whether in weaving or in lattice-work. An Urewera woman tried to explain that, in weaving, the

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base of a triangle was the waha (mouth), and the lozenge, consisting as it did of two triangles, had two mouths (waharua). The East Coast and the Whanganni call it whazkaruakopito. When I tried to get further particulars of the meaning of the word from an old man of Whanganui he smiled compassionately at my ignorance and placed his thumb upon his navel. Williams's Dictionary gives pito as “navel,” and kopito as “a pain in the abdomen.” In the large lozenge, formed of cross-stitches, called patiki (flounder) by the Arawa, we can follow the connection.

Passing on to post-European work we stand on different ground. A multitude of motives were introduced into the country through the European invasion. Many of them were decorative, and the Maori began to introduce them into his Work. In doing so he opened up new ground, and began also to introduce motives from his own environment that had hitherto not been attempted. The old simple patterns were now much too simple, and in many cases were only retained as part of a complicated design. With complicated designs the difficulty of naming becomes apparent. Where part of the design consisted of a known motive its name was usually applied to the whole panel. This is seen in the first three groupings of the designs illustrating this period.

In the second group pure European motives are introduced. Fig. 6 shows a design of small squares or chequers. Such a motive is very easy to produce, a.nd might easily be Maori. The design is named mumu. Williams's Dictionary gives mumu as “a pattern in decorative lattice-work.” In spite of mumu being an old Maori word, had any other name been applied to the design we might have been led into believing that a series of small squares was an original pattern. The name, however, reveals its origin. The Maori axe very fond of the game of draughts, which, having been introduced by Europeans, had to have a Maori name coined for it. The Maori named it from a word that is constantly used in the game. When a player said “Nawai te mu?” or “Nau te mu” he meant “Whose move is it?” or “It is your move.” Thus the word mu, which was as near as he could get to the English word “move,” was, according to Williams, adopted into the language, for draughts. Hence we get the name mumu applied to a chequer pattern, the motive of which is derived from the European draught-board. Fig. 7 shows a motive of octagonal figures. This is derived from linoleum. Many modern houses were decorated by a dado of linoleum nailed round the wall, so that it was an easy transition to reproduce it in modern lattice-work. Even the Maori, with all his stoutness of heart, hesitated at translating linoleum into Maori and applying it to a design. He fell back on pekapeka, the flat nine-strand plait at the top of the design, as a name.

The third group, with the Maori motives of a fly-flap, bird-spear, front of a house, and Mokoia Island, are sufficiently obvious to present no difficulty in naming. In the same group we come across a new source for decorative motives—namely, the game of cat's cradle (whai). Mokoia (fig. 12) and mangati and mangata (lower parts of fig. 5) are not very clear, but rapakaheru (lower third of fig. 11) bears a distinct resemblance to the blade of the old wooden spades (kaheru) that have been found in swamps. In each case the name of the cat's-cradle figure has been applied to the panel design. Another source of motives has been the decorative borders of dress cloaks. In these cases the name of the garment has been applied to the design.

In the fourth group, fig. 13 shows a combination of lines and angles that bear no resemblance to any motive. In the middle third of the

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design, however, it will be seen that the cross-stitches are closer together. This is due to the fact that they are stitched round one kakaho stake at the back of the rods, whereas in the other parts, two kakaho are treated as a single element in stitching. The cross-stitches, therefore, in the middle third, whilst just as long as the others, are only half as wide. With this fanciful data the naming craftsman named the groupings of narrow stitches “the coil of string of the kite of Whakatau.” It is left to the imagination to see a kite in the upper third of the panel, and the hillock (taumata), from which Whakatau flew the kite, in the triangles in the lower third. In fig. 14 there are very obvious crosses in the upper and middle thirds, the lower one being mounted on a stepped base, as in a cemetery. This motive was obviously European; but the name applied was the aka matua—the firm root by which Tawhaki climbed to the heavens in search of his daughter. Since the advent of Christianity the cross is regarded as the way to heaven. Thus we see a modern motive, as far as the Maoris are concerned, with the ideas it suggests, being referred back to a similar idea in Maori mythology, and the Maori name being adopted for the panel design. A lesser imaginative artist might have chosen a ordinary name, but not so the Maori; and the Maori is not the only artist who has named a picture where the application, of the title is hard to follow.


I have to thank the Rev. F. A. Bennet and Mr. J. McDonald for the photographs and Mr. Elsdon Best for the drawings used in this article. If there is too much of theory it is due to the material carefully weighed and thought over, and not to any preconceived ideas. After all, theories, having been given, are meant to be criticized, that more information may be gathered.


Since the above was written I find that the waharua pattern (Plate LXVIII, fig. 3) is called papaka (crab) by the Whanganui.

With regard to the present-day existence of the art, it has disappeared amongst the tribes of Waikato, Maniapoto, and Taranaki. There is a modified survival in the carved house at Te Kuiti, where the designs are painted on the woodwork in the same manner as those at Taumarunui.

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Three views of supposed sharpening-stone, showing grooves.