Head from a male figure
This small tattooed head is a ﬁne example of the Gisborne or Turanga school of carving, which continued to flourish during the middle of the nineteenth century on the East Coast, notably at Manutuke, some time after carving had declined in other areas. The Rongowhakaata and Ngati Kaipoho were the principal groups involved and the master carver Raharuhi Rukupo was particularly inﬂuential in maintaining this vigorous carving tradition. Work by him and Timote Tuhi, which is comparable to the head shown here, is illustrated in Barrow (1969: 36, 79).
Full facial tattooing (make) was undergone by men of high status during the course of their adult lives and although the full signiﬁcance of this painful ordeal is not now known it was in part a process of ritual sanctiﬁcation of chiefs, who were living representatives of deiﬁed ancestors and possessed powers derived from them. Women’s facial tattoo was restricted to the lips and chin. (For a discussion of moko see Simmons, 1983.)
The tattoo on this small head is ﬁnely executed and exhibits an unusual feature in the truncated bands of engraved lines which arch above the eyebrows. The hair is shown tied up in a topknot, characteristic of the East Coast region, and the head has clearly been sawn off at the neck. The right ear is missing and a cord of twisted ﬂax is tied to a ring screwed into the back of the head, suggesting that it may be from a karetao puppet ﬁgure, for which cords would have been necessary to operate the arms (cf. Barrow, 1969: 148, 151; Mead, 1984: 210). Puppets were used to dramatise myths and were not merely children’s toys.
Steven Hooper, 1997
Entry taken from Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Vol 2: Pacific, African and Native North American Art, edited by Steven Hooper (Yale University Press, 1997) p. 7.
Donated to the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia in 1973 as part of the original gift.
Title/Description: Head from a male figure
Born: 1800 c. - 1870 c.
Measurements: h. 130 x w. 65 x d. 60 mm
Accession Number: 518a
Historic Period: 19th century
Credit Line: Donated by Robert and Lisa Sainsbury, 1973