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:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 353
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.
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

Museum of Primitive Art. Masterpieces in the Museum of Primtive Art: Africa, Oceania, North America, Mexico, Central to South America, Peru. Handbook series. New York, NY: Museum of Primitive Art, 1965, no. 52.

Wardwell, Allen. The Sculpture of Polynesia. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1967, no. 92, p. 75.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 26.

The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 112.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 129.

Mead, Hirini (Sidney) Moko, ed. Te Maori: Maori Art from New Zealand Collections. New York, 1985.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 168–71.