the arrival of the Europeans Māori literature, stories and legends
were handed down both orally and through weavings and carvings.
Some carvings are over 500 years old.
Te Toi Whakairo is the art of Māori carving, and Tohunga
Whakairo were the great carvers - the master craftsmen. A master
carver was highly considered. The Māori believed that the gods created
and communicated through the master carvers.
Carving used to be a tapu
art, subject to the rules and laws of tapu. The pieces of wood falling
aside as the carver worked were never thrown away, neither were
they used for the cooking of food. Women were not permitted near
the carvings. The history, traditions, language and religion of
the Māori make up an integral part of the carving art. To the
Māori, all things possess a spirit (wairua), and a mauri (life
Felling a tree was to cut down a descendant of Tane,
the god of forests and of man. Before committing such an act, a
karakia (ritual incantation) was recited by the Tohunga, in order
to ensure that the act of felling an offspring of Tane could be
carried out safely.
The Māori differed from other Polynesians in that
they preferred curves to straight lines in much of their carvings.
Many carvings take the distinctive
koru spiral form, similar to that of a curving stalk, or a bulb.
The koru form represents the basis of the red, white and black rafter
patterns, such as those illustrated in the image below.