- Museum number
- Object: Birdman kite
Composite kite, manu tukutuku, in form of human figure. Framework is of sticks, body and horizontal on wings of peeled saplings, probably manuka or kanuka, other sticks used are much thinner and some show notching that may be leaf scars if plant used is climbing fern mange mange, all covered with commerical fabric, legs wrapped with same. Head is of wooden framework also covered with fabric attached with stitches of thread, with finely painted male tattoo and haliotis-shell eyes secured by large knots of flax fibre which form puils. Small bunches of brown split feathers are attached to ends of wings and legs.
- Production date
- 19thC (early)
Height: 122 centimetres (of crate)
Width: 236 centimetres (of crate)
Depth: 20.50 centimetres (of crate)
- Curator's comments
Information from Pacific Art in Detail: Made in the Bay of Plenty on the North of the Island of Aotearoa, this kite was made within the tradition of kite flying for spiritual purposes. The face is inked with a facial tattoo that recalls rocks engravings of birdmen in Aotearoa dating from about 1400. Birds have long been seen in the Pacific to be creatures providing a conduit between the tangible world of the living and the intangible realm of the spirit. These kites were often flew to discern the course of a proposed battle. The long tail of the kite was really powerfull and could send down to enemies a bolt of destructive spiritual energy.
In pre-contact times these kites were covered with beaten barkcloth ('aute'), but this is an object of its time, using imported cotton. This particular kite was sold to a British captain, and it might have been commissioned rather than for intended use in spiritual connections.
We only know two of these kites today: the other one is at the Auckland Museum in New Zealand.
Extracts from the British and Medieval Register 1757-1878, typescript, p.47:
June 22nd. A New Zealand kite brought from Plenty Bay: presented by Mr. Read.
British Museum registration slip description, date of writing unknown, appears to be the handwriting of James Edge Partington, so possibly late 19th century:
Presented by Mr Reid, Reed or Read
Kite in form of a bird with human head
[Added later in different handwriting, that of Bryan Cranstone?] Brought by Capt. Manning from Plenty Bay (=Bay of Plenty)
Volume 'Acquisitions 1843-1845 Ethnography', Dept. of Antiquities, p. 122:
'New Zealand Kite in rude imitation of a bird flying with expanded wings, made of cloth ornamented with native patterns, and eyes of a kind of nacre or mother of pearl of the ear shell, disposed on a framework of twigs.
Presented by Mr Reid
[In different writing] Brought by Captain Manning from Plenty Bay
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1998 27 Jun-1 Nov, London, BM, Maori
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number