Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Width: 98.000 cm
Gift of Sir George Grey
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Door lintel from a house (pare)
Maori, AD 1800-20
From the Poverty Bay area, New Zealand, Polynesia
This door lintel, or pare in Maori, comes from a small house. It illustrates one of the two main styles of Maori lintel. The other type has two or three forward facing figures as shown in another lintel in the British Museum (see Related Objects). The central figure facing forwards is usually depicted as a female, but in this case the genital area has been carved with a face mask. This figure is flanked at each end by an outward facing manaia figure - a motif in which the body is often depicted in profile. The three figures have inlaid pearl shell eyes. The area between the three figures is carved with smaller figures, loops and spirals.
This style of lintel is generally thought to represent Papatuanuka, often shortened to Papa, the Earth Mother giving birth to the principal gods. Another interpretation is that it depicts Hinenuitepo, the goddess of death defeating the demi-god Maui as he attempts to gain immortality for mankind.
Roger Neich, an expert on Maori wood carving, has identified the style of carving shown on this lintel as being that of the Rongowhakaata tribe of Poverty Bay, located on the East Coast of North Island.
D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
S. M. Mead, Te Toi Whakairo: The art of Ma (Reed Methuen Publishers Ltd., 1986)
T. Barrow, Maori wood sculpture of New Ze (Wellington, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1969)