Forensic Fashion
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>Costume Studies
>>1807 Maori ariki 
Subjectariki / rangatira warrior chief
Culture: Maori
Setting: Musket wars, Aotearoa / North Island 1807-1830




Context (Event Photos, Period Sources)

* Wilson 1978 p117-118
"In pre-European times the Maori of New Zealand were among the most aggressive people on earth.  Raids among their forty tribes were frequent and bloody.  Insults, hostility, and retribution were carefully tallied in tribal memories.  Defense of personal honor and courage were the paramount virtues, victory by force of arms the highest achievement.  According to Andrew Vayda, an expert on primitive war, the prime mover of Maori warfare was ecological competition.  Revenge led to open fighting for land and then to territorial conquests.  Alliances were based on kinship; the Maoris consciously and explicitly expanded against the territories of the genealogically most distant lineages. ... The major effect of these territorial wars was stabilization of the population.  As groups became overcrowded, they expanded by displacing and reducing rival groups.  The Maori population was a constantly shifting mosaic of tribal groups held at a level density overall ... by territorial aggression acting as an ecological control.
​    "This terrible equilibrium was finally disrupted and reversed when European firearms were introduced.  ...
"Within a few years Maori leaders acquired guns of their own and began to employ them with devastating effect on their neighbors. ... Other tribes rushed to arm themselves in order to regain parity in the escalating hostilities.
​    "The arms race soon became self-limiting.  Even the victors paid a heavy price. To obtain more muskets, the Maoris devoted inordinate amounts of their time to producing flax and other goods that could be traded to the Europeans for guns.  And in order to grow more flax many moved to the swampy lowlands, where large numbers died of disease.  During the approximately twenty years of musket war, fully one quarter of the population died from one cause or another related to the conflict.  By 1830 the Nga Puhi had begun to question the use of fighting for revenge; the old values crumbled soon afterward.  In the late 1830s and early 1840s the Maoris as a whole converted rapidly and massively to Christianity, and warfare among the tribes ceased entirely."

* Diamond 2011 p165
"The Maori ... [t]raditionally ... fought frequent fierce wars against each other but only against closely neighboring tribes.  Those wars were limited by the modest productivity of their agriculture, whose staple crop was sweet potatoes.  It was not possible to grow enough sweet potatoes to feed an army in the field for a long time or on distant marches.  When Europeans arrived in New Zealand, they brought potatoes, which beginning around 1815 considerably increased Maori crop yields.  Maori could now grow enough food to supply armies in the field for many weeks.  The result was a 15-year period in Maori history, from 1818 until 1833, when Maori tribes that had acquired potatoes and guns from the English sent armies out on raids to attack tribes hundreds of miles away that had not yet acquired potatoes and guns.  Thus, the potato's productivity relieved previous limitations on Maori warfare ...."

* Barrow 1978 p29-30
"With war imminent, classic Maori culture was always in a state of stress especially during the summer season.  Maori ideas of traditional fighting were quite unlike those of the Medieval knightly tradition, as there was a mutual agreement among tribes that the strategy of surprise attack without warning, in which man, woman and child might die or be taken into slavery, was tika (that is, a right and socially approved act).  Skill in ambush was admired and a surprise dawn attack was a favoured strategy.
​    "Once a course of war was decided by tribal council, scouts were sent out to determine the readiness of the enemy.  If the chances of success seemed very good, that is, if the enemy seemed unprepared, then the war party (taua) was despatched.  Priests were taken along to watch for omens such as might be seen in the movement of birds.  A bad omen was ample cause for retreat.  Open fighting was infrequent, as much war manoeuvring consisted of feints, tricks, ambush, false retreat and attack, and such tactics.  To lure the enemy on by insults so as to make him lose his judgment by blind rage was an approved psychological warfare method."

* Starzecka ed. 1996 p35-36 (Ngahuia Te Awkotuku, "Maori: People and culture" p26-49)
"Traditional Maori warfare -- fighting technique, military strategy and leadership structures -- puzzled Western observers and ethnographers [citations omitted].  They judged the Maori at war as lacking effective and visible command, capricious and poorly organized; they seldom acknowledged that they witnessed a corruption and drastic upheaval of traditional systems caused by firearms and Pakeha advisors."

* Arts of the South Seas 1946 p52
"The Maori were the most warlike of the Polynesians and their courage and determination won the respect of Europeans.  Villages were built on hill tops or ridges for defense and were elaborately fortified with ditches and palisades.  Attacking parties carried on regular siege operations.  Chivalrous behavior was admired and in some cases a besieging force would draw off the night before a final assault and even send supplies to the besieged so that the defenders would be well rested and fed and able to put up a good final battle.  Cannibalism was regular.  The flesh of slain enemies was an important part of the spoil after a successful battle, and captives, irrespective of age or sex, were usually eaten.  Just as in the Marquesas, the relatives of a man who had been eaten were under a revenge obligation until the account could be squared, but the ultimate insult was to cook an enemy and then discard him as unfit food."

* Diamond 1999 p53-54
"On the Chatham Islands, 500 miles east of New Zealand, centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835.  On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori.  Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected.  An organized resistance by the Moriori could still then have defeated the Maori, who were outnumbered two to one.  However, the Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully.  They decided in a council meeting not to fight back but to offer peace, friendship, and a division of resources.
​    "Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse.  Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim.  A Moriori survivor recalled, '[The Maori] commenced to kill us like sheep.... [We] were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies.  It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed -- men, women, and children indiscriminately.'  A Maori conqueror explained, 'We took possession ... in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people.  Not one escaped.  Some ran away from us, these we killed, others we killed -- but what of that?  It was in accordance with our custom.'"


Tattooing

* Knight ill. Scollins 1990 p24
"A striking feature of the Maori warrior was the moko, or facial tattoo.  This was a series of raised scars, coloured with blue pigment, which swirled around the countours of the face exaggerating the features.  Each moko was unique, and although it was not an indication of rank, the tattooing process was painful and a moko did embody something of a man's mana."

* Knight ill. Ruggeri 2013 p20-21
"Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the appearance of Maori men in traditional society was the practice of tattooing, ta moko.  Although not directly related to rank, tattooing was a long and painful process that reflected a degree of mana, and few Maori men of status or influence were without it.  The tattooing itself was carried out by a tohunga, a skilled practitioner, who used a small chisel fashioned from albatross bone to cut the pattern into the skin by tapping this with a rod, rubbing the wounds with ash or vegetable dyes to stain them.  The patterns of the tattoos were entirely individualistic, no two being exactly alike -- one reason why heads taken in battle and smoke-dried remained readily identifiable -- but they followed similar principles and patterns.
    "The head was considered a sacred -- tapu -- part of the body, and the moko usually followed the lines and planes of the face, exaggerating frown lines and creases, decorating the sides of the nose, and ornamenting the cheeks with swirls and circles.  In pre-Colonial society most Maori men shaved their facial hair so as to present their moko fully, and those who wore their hair long tied it into a bun at the back of their head.  The buttocks were often decorated with swirling designs known as rape, while the thighs were marked with long vertical lines."

* Robley 1896 p10
"The mode of tattooing practised by the Maoris was unlike that of any other race, and their artistic designs were so arranged that the skin of the face was often completely covered up to the corners of the eyes, and even over the eyelids; and that the stains, though tending to diminish in brilliancy, were indelible."

* Barrow 1978 p26
"The male, when fully tattooed, had a facial design of complex spirals on both cheeks and both sides of the nose; lines spreading from between the eyes to temple and from nose to chin, and with supplementary patterns on forehead and by the ears based on the small bulb-like koru motif.  Each buttock had a large interlocking spiral on it with adjoining drawn-out patterns which extended down both thighs to above the knee."

* Robley 1896 p22-23
"The great chiefs had their faces and bodies covered with designs of extreme delicacy and beauty; and all the men, except the slaves, were more or less decorated with blue-black; and the fact that slaves were excluded from the art is significant of the views of their masters.  It has been said that the tattooing on the bodies was for the purpose of identification in case the head was cut off by the enemy in battle.  Moko was a sign of distinction; it told off the noble and freeman from the slave."

* Starzecka ed. 1996 p41-42 (Ngahuia Te Awkotuku, "Maori: People and culture" p26-49)
"Moko provided natural camouflage in times of war, and gave the warrior the confidence of an intimidating, even awesome, appearance.  It also displayed one's capacity for pain and endurance, and it enhanced the carrier's erotic appeal quite considerably."

* D'Alleva 2010 p114
"The gender differentiation of tattoo was quite marked in New Zealand.  Elite men wore a full facial tattoo; elite women wore tattoos on the lips and chin only, unless they were the highest-ranking members of their lineages, in which case some wore full-face male tattoos as a sign of their unusual status."

* Robley 1896 p26-27
"[T]he moko on the faces [of chiefs] was very diverse, but that on the buttocks it always seems to be the same -- a neat spiral line, of which the first or starting point is at the centre of the most fleshy part, then successively embraces the whole circumferences [sic].  To have fine tattooed faces was the great ambition among men both to render themselves attractive to the ladies and conspicuous in war.  The decorative art of a people reflects their character; and the fierceness of the Maori moko undoubtedly corresponded to the fierceness in their nature."


Pendants (Hei Tiki, Rei Puta)

* Stafford 1996 p73 = Stafford 1997 p55-56
"The most used and prized material for ornaments was always greenstone.  These took various forms such as tiki, pekapeka, matau, koropepe, and kaka poria.  Some designs undoubtedly derive from earlier wood carving while others represent stylised objects such as the fish hook.  Archaic forms of pendants made from sperm whale teeth, moa bone and stone also existed but were rarely seen by the end of the eighteenth century.  The prefix 'hei', for example 'hei tiki', indicates the ornament was suspended from the neck."


Costume (Hair, Cloak, Belt, Kilt)

* Knight ill. Ruggeri 2013 p21
"In traditional society Maori men often went into battle naked, both to display their tattoos and for ease of movement.  Although the gradual spread of European clothing which followed contact with the pakeha led many warriors to cover themselves, some traditionalists continued to go into battle naked until very late in the cycle of conflict.
    "Otherwise, the most common item of dress for a warrior was either the maro or the piupiu.  The maro was a front apron made from twisted thrums of flax, usually dyed black, and worn suspended from a thick belt, tatua, made from the same material.  The tatua was usually strong enough to carry hand-weapons thrust into it, often at the back, leaving the hands free for pole-weapons or, later, firearms.  The piupiu features in a number of contemporary 19-century photographs and paintings.  This was a kilt made from rows of flax leaves dressed into long thin rolls and dyed dark brown at regular intervals; although a popular element of traditional Maori culture today, it was apparently less popular as a war dress in the past, because it was difficult to move in without the flax swishing or rustling.
    "Flax also provided the raw material for the other two main elements of Maori dress: a shawl worn around the waist and hanging to the knees like a kilt, and a rectangular garment worn either short, as a cape, or long, as a fine cloak.  The edges of both items were commonly decorated with finely patterned borders known as taniko, made by weaving together flax leaves dyed with various natural colors."

* McGuire 1968 p67
"In the later period of Maori cultural development the men abandoned the loincloth in favor of a short skirt called a piupiu.  Even then, however, a common man might wear only a piece of old cloak wound around his waist.  A cloak which might reach to the heels was worn when protection from the cold was needed."

* Mead 1969 p82
"A person anxious to follow the fashion to its highest level would need to dress his hair into a topknot, place a decorative comb beside it and stick two or three white feathers into the knot; have greenstone pendants and white feathers hanging from his ears; have the rei puta pendant suspended from his neck, have a dogskin cloak around his body; a belt around the waist and a string tied to his penis; have elaborate indelible tattoo designs over his face and forehead, and over his buttocks and thighs ...."

* Berry & Best 1968 p92 
"The Maori men wear even less [than the women].  They are content with a kilt that is almost indistinguishable from the one worn by the women.  Their torsos are bare, except on rare occasions when they wear a cloak."

* Knight ill. Scollins 1990 p24
"Traditionally, many toa [warriors] went into battle naked for easier movement.  Otherwise male dress consisted of a kilt, maro, either of flax (a fibrous plant from which the Maoris made most of their clothing), or black cords.  Heavy flax cloaks, dipped in water to make them impervious to spear thrusts, were sometimes worn as protection, and chiefs wore cloaks decorated with patterned borders and a variety of skins and feathers."

* Barrow 1978 p21
"Men usually went into battle wearing only this device [foreskin string tied to a belt] and a heavy flax war-belt into which they thrust a short club while they carried in hand a spear (tao[toa?] or a kind of sword-club with flattish striking blade of which the taiaha with its Janus head and out-thrust tongue is the most familiar type. The various weapons are consistent in design, however variation of size and individual decoration is considerable.
​    "This degree of male nudity allowed the tattoos of thighs and buttocks to be clearly seen by all and it permitted quick unhampered movement in close fighting.  Of course, there was no absolute rule about dress other than that modesty and status be observed.  No slave dressed as a chief."


Gun

* Crosby 1986 p236
"From the early 1770s on, the Maori openly coveted metal tools and weapons.  In 1814 they would exchange one or even two large hogs for a small ax.  That same year they exchanged 150 baskets of potatoes and eight pigs for one musket.  A tribe had to have muskets, at first for the mystical power of them, the mana, and then for their firepower.  Possession of muskets could make a chief the owner of many slaves.  Lack of guns would surely make him a dead man and his people slaves.
​    "Until the 1830s, most of the guns streaming into New Zealand entered through the Bay of Islands, where whalers used them as currency to pay for what they needed and wanted.  the greatest of the Maori leaders in that area was Hongi Hika, chief of the Ngapuhi, who went to England in 1820 to obtain muskets and a double-barreled gun, this last being the greatest possession a man could have on this earth.  He returned with his guns, plus a suit of chain armor -- a present from George IV -- and set off on the bloodiest series of military campaigns in the history of the land.  He fought in his armor, firing five muskets loaded and reloaded for him by servants. ... Under his leadership, the Ngapuhi and allied tribes, strengthened by the prestige deriving from association with the pakeha, even with the missionaries, whalers, and inflicted terrible losses on their rivals, killing thousands and taking the survivors for slaves, the women to rent to the whalers.  Hongi Hika made muskets a necessity for the Maori, and within a few years his musketeers had spread the gunpowder infection from the Northland through the entire island, where people with spears and clubs in their hands waited to defend against others with muskets in theirs."

* McEwen 1986 p ix
"Up to the time of the musket warfare of Hongi Hika, Te Rauparaha and others, it seems likely that most tribal wars were a series of small skirmishes, often between related people, and there were almost certainly long periods of peace which are not mentioned in traditions because no prestige could be gained from them."

* American Museum of Natural History > Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples
"[...] Guns, brought by Europeans in the early nineteenth century, rapidly replaced traditional weapons and introduced an era characterized by fortified villages, intensified warfare and head hunting."

* Orbell 1991 p37
"The acquisition of muskets led to a frantic arms race and sudden shifts in the balance of power.  There was increased warfare, and there were large-scale migrations as disadvantaged tribes sought to escape from heavily armed neighbours and move to districts where muskets were available."

* Treaty 2U online > Maori and the British > War, Migration, and Change
"The rangatira (chiefs) who came across muskets in their dealings with Pakeha realised the enormous advantage guns could give them over enemies with customary weapons.  The musket's power lay not only in the damage it could inflict, but also in the fear it instilled. ...  Muskets meant defeating enemies and gaining or successfuly defending territories and resources.  Rangatira were willing to pay a premium for these weapons.  They traded large quantities of flax fibre and food supplies for muskets. [...]
​    "As more tribal groups gained muskets, a time of bloody upheaval followed.  The arms race between tribes escalated until almost all had muskets, leading to uneasy truces between the various groups around 1830.  By then, however, some tribes had been decimated and others driven from their lands.  Tribal boundaries across the North Island had been changed forever."


Long Clubs (Taiaha, Tewhatewha, Hoeroa)

* Starzecka ed. 1996 p37 (Ngahuia Te Awkotuku, "Maori: People and culture" p26-49)
"There were two principal types of weaponry -- the short club and the long club or staff.  The latter were made of wood and used with both hands.  They included colorful taiaha, ornamented tewhatewha with an axe-like head, and plain but effective pouwhenua.  There was also the hoeroa, made from elegantly curved whalebone.  Measuring between 1.5 and 2.7 m long, depending on the height of the wielder, these long weapons thrust, parried and sliced, maintaining a defensive radius."

* Arts of the South Seas 1946 p52
"As with most really determined fighters, the Maori warrior's equipment was comparatively simple.  Staves pointed at one end so that they could be used as either clubs or spears were made in two standardized forms ...."

* Stafford 1996 p63 = Stafford 1997 p47
"[Taiaha, pouwhenua, and tewhatewha long clubs] averaged about 1.5 m in length and were made of a tough wood.  One end was flattened into a blade for striking (as with the quarterstaff) while the other was pointed for stabbing."

* Best 1952 p168-169
"The two-handed weapons employed by the Maoris in pre-European days were remarkable for their lightness, and in some cases for their slenderness.  They are, as a rule, very much lighter and handier than Melanesian weapons.  The Maori disliked heavy or clumsy weapons such as those used by the natives of Fiji.  He relied principally upon his agility in mortal combat, and he was trained from childhood, one may say, in the art of avoiding blow and thrust.  The nimbleness of a person so trained is very remarkable.  Native weapons consisted of striking and thrusting implements, as spears and short striking-weapons.  Others were a form of halbert or quarter-staff, and with these the Maori was much given to thrust-feinting with the point and delivering a blow with the butt end.  The rapidity with which an expert could recover arms, reverse, and deliver a blow was truly surprising. ... The spear, taiahapouwhenua, and tewhatewha were but slightly made implements, and a hard, tough, strong wood was a necessity."


Short Clubs (Patu, Kotiate, Wahaika)

* Stafford 1996 p63 = Stafford 1997 p47-48
"As well as this long weapon, a patu (short club) was usually carried.  Made of wood, bone or stone (the most prized being greenstone) it was stuck in the warrior's thickly woven war belt.  Known as mere, kotiate and wahaika (depending on design) each had a wide, flat blade, the extremity ground to a sharp edge.  A thrusting rather than a striking weapon, the patu's sharp front edge was brought against an opponent's temple or neck, a final blow being delivered to the skull as the enemy fell."

* Arts of the South Seas 1946 p52
"[T]he favorite weapon was a short club, never more than two feet long.  This was made from stone, preferably jade, or whalebone, or hard wood.  The end of the weapon was ground to a sharp edge and it was used for stabbing rather than striking.  The favorite thrusts were those delivered at the temple or just below the ribs.  Apparently this weapon was developed from a stone adze blade or chisel held in the hand."

* Starzecka ed. 1996 p38-39 (Ngahuia Te Awkotuku, "Maori: People and culture" p26-49)
"Some fighters preferred to use only short weapons, though both [long and short] types were carried into combat, the staff in hand, and the club tucked into a folded fibre belt.  Short clubs were grasped in either hand, and struck, jabbed and sliced in swift, dance-like motions.  The most prestigious were mere pounamu of nephrite, whose spatulate shape was also worked in whalebone as patu paraoa, and stone as patu onewa.  Others were made of wood or bone: wahaika, with a crescent-like profile, and the figure-of-eight shaped kotiate. ...
​    "Weapons were regarded as precious heirlooms, passed from one generation to the next.  They were also coveted battlefield trophies, and many of the most acclaimed carried personal names, such as 'Kaitangata' ('Man-Eater'), 'Te Ngaheretoto' ('Forest of Blood') or 'Te Ngakimate' ('Vengeful Death').  Being intimately associated with the god of war and the shedding of blood, they were highly tapu and were concealed when not in use; possession of such treasures was a weighty responsibility."

* Berry & Best 1968 p68-69  
"In New Zealand among the Maoris a small club was used for infighting.  Sometimes it was carried in place of the long club, sometimes it was slung by a cord of dog hide to the wrist, which allowed the long club to be used as well.  This smaller Maori club was roughly the shape and size of a ping pong racket, and as held in much the same manner.  Sharpened on both edges and heavy, it was made of a hard wood, or the rigid bone of a whale, of black volcanic stone, or even of the precious New Zealand jade, chipped, ground, and polished form a single piece.  
​    "This club usually had a magic head or the distorted tikie-like human figure carved on one edge of the short handle.  Another pattern was indented on both edges and was roughly the shape of a miniature violin, or was sharp only on one side, with a protective guard on the other.  Such highly specialized short clubs were used both for jabbing and striking, and as swords or knuckle-dusters.  To modern eyes they look somewhat ineffective but when backed by some two hundred and fifty pounds of fighting fury they were sufficiently deadly."

* James Cook 1998 p298
"The Maori distinguished between three types of club: merekotiate, and wahaika.  The mere was the simplest and was made of stone, bone, or greenstone. ... [O]nly the greenstone clubs should actually be referred to as mere.  The stone clubs were called patu onewa, and those of whalebone patu paraoa.  The mere is decorated with parallel grooves at the grip end.  The kotiate features a broader blade and is shaped like a violin.  ... [T]he kotiate were mostly made of whalebone; however they were often fashioned out of wood for the Europeans.  The wahaika was a one-sided mere, with a concave indentation on one side for the image of a face or figure.  The sharp edge at the end of the blade is a common feature of all clubs.  A piece of dog skin was usually drawn through an eye and wound into a strap to fit over the thumb and hand.  The patu were used in close combat and would be thrust forward.  According to Banks, they were 'most admirably calculated for the cracking of the sculls', and were worn on the belt." [citations omitted]


Knife

* Allen 1996 p168
"The Maoris of New Zealand call the seven gilled shark (Notorynchus cepedianus) that lives in their waters a tuatini.  From its teeth they once made a sawlike instrument, the mira tuatina, which reputedly had one special use: cutting human flesh."

* Meyer 1995 v2 p563 f652
"Human-flesh knife, or maripi.  Maori people, New Zealand."

* Starzecka ed. 1996 p80 f49 (Robert Neich, "Wood-carving" p69-113)
"A shark-tooth knife, maripi, designed for cutting meat.  The wooden frame of the knife is in the form of a manaia biting into and grasping the cutting edge.  Surface decoration of unaunahi and puwerewere patterns follows the curves of its body."

* Andersen 1928 p158 (from "Whai-tiri seeks Kai-tangata")
"She speared him, he fell into the water, and she put him into the net.  Tupeke-ta hastened to the middle of the canoe to spear her, but she struck him with a koripi, a knife edged with sharks' teeth, and he too fell into her net." 


Adze

* Barrow 1978 p30
"A rare kind of ceremonial adze (toki-pou-tangata) has a long jade blade and carved helve.  It marked the noble person, served as a baton on the field of battle, and became a mace of authority for the chiefly orator."

* Starzecka ed. 1996 p28 f16 (Ngahuia Te Awkotuku, "Maori: People and culture" p26-49)
"Ceremonial adze, toki poutangata, an emblem of chiefly authority and spiritual power.  The highly polished nephrite blade is lashed to the carved haft with flax braided cord."

* Simmons 1985 p48
"The tokipoutangata (ceremonial adze) is a symbol of an ariki, a paramount chief.  The blade, whether of greenstone or ordinary rock, is a named and treasured heirloom, a visible symbol of the genealogical descent and mana of the ariki.  Like all such items it is regarded as being in the keeping of the present holder, a trust to be guarded and passed on to his heirs.  It is the tribe who are the owners.  Each time a holder of a tokipoutangata died, the handle was buried with him.  Often the whole adze and handle were buried or placed in the cave with the body, the blade being recovered later when a new holder was installed.  A new handle was then carved and the tapu blade lashed to its new handle.  Thus, visibly, the new ariki was proclaimed.
     "[...] The handles of tokipoutangata are an expression of relationships with the forces which govern men.  The toki could be used to take life and when this happened, the mana of the person killed was increased, not diminished.  Rangikotama [god of water/lizard figure carved on the handle] relates to the waters of life and death, and the head on the butt to the primal parents."

* Stone 1934 p3
"ADZE.  The adze is a carpenter's tool something like an axe but with the edge at right angles to the handle.  The Maoris were the only people who used it regularly as a weapon.  Their war adzes had jade blades and elaborately carved handles, while those used as tools had plain ones."


Box

* Metropolitan Museum of Art 1987 p53
"The wooden boxes with fitted lids made by the Maori of New Zealand were always carved with elaborate designs -- scrolls and figures of ancestors -- covering the entire surface in splendid profusion.  The ultimate reason for the decoration and detail of such boxes was the belief, which the Maori shared with many other Polynesians, that the head of a chief was sacred, holding a concentration of his tapu (power and sanctity).  By extension, anything that touched a chief's head became imbued by this potentially dangerous force: particularly his hair, which had to be ritually buried when it was cut, and the feathers he wore in his hair. The most prized feathers were those of the now extinct huia bird; hence the name of this type of container (waka), in which the chief kept his feather ornaments.  As much to keep their sacredness from endangering others as to keep the feathers, jade ear pendants, and so forth out of danger, the boxes were hung high in the rafters of the house.  Since they were usually seen from below, the undersides of the boxes were carved as fully as were their lids and sides."

​* Brooklyn Museum > Oceania
"Treasure boxes held small personal valuables, such as nephrite neck pendants (hei tiki), ear ornaments, and precious feathers. A fiber cord attached to each end and passed through the holes in the lid would have been used to suspend the box from the rafters of the owner's house." ...