Date: ca. 1800
Geography: New Zealand
Culture: Maori people, Te Arawa
Dimensions: 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: 1979.206.1508
In the past and the present, large communal meeting houses served, and continue to serve, as important focal points for the community among the Maori people of Aotearoa (New Zealand). Adorned with carvings depicting ancestors (tupuna) and other figures from oral tradition, the meeting house serves as council chamber, guest house, community center, and gathering place where important issues are discussed and debated. They are also important as places where the community's history and genealogy are preserved and imparted to succeeding generations.
The form of the meeting house itself represents the body of a primordial ancestor—the ridge pole of the roof is his spine, the rafters his ribs, the gable boards on the exterior his outstretched arms, and the gable ornament on the roof peak his face. The interior is decorated with carved architectural elements depicting powerful ancestors, both male and female, who at once portray and embody the spirits of these illustrious tupuna.
Depicting a prominent tupuna, this panel once adorned a Maori meeting house in the Te Arawa region and may portray an ancient warrior. The sense of aggressive movement conveyed in the stylized depiction of the arms suggests the panel portrays the ancestor engaged in a war dance, his tongue thrust out in defiance of his people's enemies.