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Prow from a war canoe (tuere)


Passmore Collection

AOA 1900.7-21.1

    Prow from a war canoe (tuere)

    Maori, 18th century AD
    From North Auckland, New Zealand, Polynesia

    This is the central panel of the prow of a war canoe. It is considered to be the best surviving example of the type known as tuere, with a separate splash-board and a triangular base fitted on to the central panel.

    Maori war canoes could be in excess of twenty metres long and carry up to 140 warriors. They were made with great care and attention to detail, and served as a focus of tribal pride. They were painted and adorned with feathers, and accompanying paddles and bailers were often elaborately decorated. Early European visitors describe seeing fleets of up to sixty vessels. Some would be fitted with large triangular sails plaited from flax fibre, but otherwise for speed and manoeuverability the crew would use wooden paddles. Kauri pine (Agathis australis) and totara (Podocarpus totara) were considered the most desirable timbers to use for building a war canoe, in part because both trees grow to a great height. The lower part of the canoe was of dugout construction and the prow, stern, wash-strakes and other parts were lashed onto the hull and to each other with flax fibre.

    The panel has openwork carving on both sides, in a style associated with North Auckland, including rolling spirals on the elongated figures. It was probably made in the Hokianga district. Tuere prows appear to have been fairly widespread in the northern coastal area of New Zealand in the late eighteenth century, judging by illustrations by artists on Captain Cook's voyages.

    The skills of Maori wood carving have not been lost. There has been a revival of interest mostly since the latter half of the twentieth century. A significant part of this revival was the building of twenty-two war canoes to coincide with the 150th anniversary, in 1990, of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

    D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)

    E. Best., The Maori canoe (Wellington, Dominion Museum Bulletin no.7, 1976, reprint of 1925)

    D. Simmons, Whakairo: Maori tribal art (Auckland, Oxford University Press, 1985)


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