Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Width: 81.500 cm
Collected by William
Transferred from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Basket (kete whakairo)
Maori, possibly early 19th century
From New Zealand, Polynesia
This basket is plaited from strips of New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), some of which are dyed dark brown to form a pattern. The Maori name for a basket with a decorative pattern such as this is kete whakairo. Contemporary artists now produce colourful baskets, taking advantage of synthetic dyes, in a variety of designs. The Maori also use plaiting techniques to make mats. The manufacture of baskets and mats was the skilled work of women, as is the case with the weaving of cloaks - still predominantly the art of women.
This early form of basket seldom has handles, as they were usually carried on the back or on the shoulder. The loops around the rim allow the basket to be laced shut. Plaited carrying straps were also used for carrying loads on the back. Baskets were used for carrying a variety of goods, including food and clothing. Baskets were also used for boiling food in hot water pools. People owned a number of baskets, each of which was used for a particular purpose. Baskets made from flax are very strong and durable, but other materials can be used, for example a sedge called pingao (Desmoschoenus spiralis) and a climbing plant called kiekie (Freycinetia baueriana).
This basket was collected by the Englishman William Colenso (1811-99), a missionary for the Church Missionary Society. He was a keen amateur botanist, and collected specimens while exploring the North Island of New Zealand. This basket must have been collected by Colenso some time between 1834, when he arrived in New Zealand, and 1851, the year the basket was accessioned by the Royal Botanic Gardens. It was transferred to the collections of The British Museum in 1960.
D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
M. Pendergrast, Feathers and fibre: a survey o (Auckland, Penguin Books, 1984.)