Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Width: 207.500 cm
Collected by Captain
Gift of Mr Reed
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Maori, possibly early 19th century
From the Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand
This is the oldest surviving example of a Maori bird kite. Traditionally, the Maori made and flew a variety of types of kite. Children flew simple, quickly-made kites, while adults flew complex and beautiful kites like this. Adults mainly flew kites for entertainment, occasionally holding kite-flying contests, but they also flew them for more serious purposes, such as divination. Omens were read from the way in which the kite mounted into the sky, and from the places over which it hovered.
Large kites, such as this one (which has a wing span of over two metres) were flown by two men, using a very strong three-strand cord.
Kites like this one, in the form of a bird with outstretched wings, were generally given a human rather than a bird's head. Here it consists of a contoured mask, with eyes made from haliotis shell. The kite is made of a light wooden framework, covered with imported cloth. Before cloth was introduced they were covered in barkcloth.
The kite came to The British Museum in 1843 as a donation from a Mr Reed. It was brought from the Bay of Plenty by a Captain Manning. At present the Museum has no information about either of these men.
D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
E. Best, The Maori, Vol: II Memoirs of the Polynesian Society: vol. V (Board of Maori Ethnological Research, Wellington, 1924)