Picturing Death in Maori Art

By Robert Hans George Jahnke.

Published by The International Journal of New Media, Technology and the Arts

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Maori (indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand) notion of mortality is recorded in tribal narrative as a contest between the goddess of death Hine-nui-te-po (the maiden of darkness) and folk hero Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga (Maui bound in the topknot of Taranga). The earliest representations of the narrative appear on carved door lintels and bone chests. After European contact depictions of the event were translated onto treasure boxes in a surreptitious approach that disguised the genitalia of the protagonists in lieu of Missionary puritanical interference. In the twentieth century, European patronage in the building of tribal houses resulted in literal renditions of the narrative influenced by Western sculptural conventions. Towards the end of the twentieth century, both Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori) artists contribute to the death narrative in a naturalistic figurative genre straddling illustration to performance. The paper tracks the death narrative through time to demonstrate the change in representational approaches and the rationale for these changes.

Keywords: Maori Art, Death, Hine-nui-te-po, Mauitikitiki-a-Taranga, Door Lintels, Bone Chests, Treasure Chests

The International Journal of New Media, Technology and the Arts, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.21-38. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.230MB).

Prof. Robert Hans George Jahnke

Head of the School of Maori Studies, School of Maori Studies, Massey University, Palmerston North, Manawatu, New Zealand

Professor Robert Jahnke is currently the Head of Maori Studies at Massey University in Palmerstn North New Zealand. He is both an educator and an artist whose work is represented in several major public collections in New Zealand. He is responsible for the creation of the Toiho ki Apiti program at Massey University in Palmerston North, which he coordinates, teaches and supervises. He also contributes to Maori visual culture as a writer. He recently completed a PhD entitled, ‘The house that Riwai built: a continuum of Maori Art’. Many of his ex-students are now working in galleries and museums while others are employed in tertiary institutions throughout the country.