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House Post Figure (Amo)

ca. 1800
New Zealand
Maori people, Te Arawa
H. 43 x W. 11 x D. 5 1/8 in. (109.2 x 27.9 x 13 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Large communal meeting houses served, and continue to serve, as important focal points for the community among the Maori people of New Zealand (Aotearoa). Richly adorned with carvings depicting ancestors and figures from Maori mythology, the meeting house functions as council chamber, guest house, community center, and gathering place for the discussion and debate of important issues. Meeting houses are particularly important as places where the local group's history, customs, and genealogy are preserved and passed down to succeeding generations. The structure of the meeting house itself represents the body of a primoridial ancestor — the ridge pole of the roof is the spine, the rafters the ribs, the gable boards on the exterior the outstretched arms, and the gable ornament at the peak of the roof the face. The interior is extensively decorated with carved panels and other architectural members depicting powerful ancestors, both male and female.
    These ancestor images constitute a visual history of the group, simultaneously representing and embodying the spirts of its illustrious forebearers. Many represent prominent warriors who, in the past, fought to protect the community.
    Depicting an ancestor from the Te Arawa region, this panel once adorned a Maori meeting house and may depict an ancient warrior. The sense of fierce movement conveyed in the stylized depiction of the arms indicate's that the figure is likely engaged in a war dance, while his tongue is thrust out in defiance of his people's enemies.

  • Provenance

    Capt. J. Lort Stokes, H.M.S. Beagle, collected New Zealand, 1835; [Matthias Komor, New York, until 1958]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1958, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, 1958–1978

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History