Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Width: 131.500 cm
Gift of Sir George Grey
Room 24: Living and Dying
Lintel of a meeting house (pare)
Maori, late AD 1840s
From New Zealand, Polynesia
The meeting house is the main landmark and focus of a Maori settlement, and is used for communal and ceremonial activities. It is a focus of tribal pride and is treated with great respect. It developed from the eighteenth-century chief's house, which was used to accommodate visitors. During the nineteenth century the size of the building increased, and by the 1860s it had become a medium- to large-sized structure which is the property of the whole of the local community. The open space in front of the house, known as a marae, is used as an assembly ground.
The meeting house is regarded as sacred. Some areas are held as more sacred than others, especially the front of the house. The lintel (Maori: pare) above the doorway is considered the most important carving, marking the passage from the domain of one god to that of another. Outside the meeting house is often referred to as the domain of Tumatauenga, the god of war, and thus of hostility and conflict. The calm and peaceful interior is the domain of Rongo, the god of agriculture and other peaceful pursuits.
This example illustrates of one of the two main forms of door lintel. The three figures, with eyes inlaid with rings of haliotis shell, are standing on a base which symbolizes Papa or Earth. The figures are often male, but in this case are of indeterminate sex. They can be regarded as representations of Tane and his brother gods, their raised arms allowing spirals of light and knowledge into this world.
The lintel was probably carved in the Whakatane district of the Bay of Plenty in the late 1840s.
D.R. Simmons, te whare runanga: the Maori me (Auckland, Reed Books, 1997)
D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)