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Polynesian Resource Center

Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Polynesian Art and Culture

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Polynesia Art at Auction – Head Pukeroa Pa? - Maori, New Zealand

Polynesia Art at Auction – Head Pukeroa Pa? - Maori, New Zealand

The main interest in this head carved in the early 1800's is that it is catalogued by Sothebys as likely to be part of a series of  architecture elements for Pukeroa Pa on the foreshore of Lake Rotorua. The most famous surviving element is a superb massive gateway that is regarded as one of the great treasures of Maori Art. On the back of the carving under discussion is an old inscription which suggests this and Sothey's find similarities in the  carving styles.

Polynesia Art at Auction – Hei Tiki - Maori, New Zealand

Polynesia Art at Auction – Hei Tiki - Maori, New Zealand

With a sale price of 372,750 euros (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium) against an estimate of 100,000 — 150,000 euros, this hei tiki must rate as one of the highest priced hei tiki sold at auction. I will not quote the catalogue blurb in full because it is mainly puff relating to a who's who of former owners including Countess Martine de Béhague (1869 – 1939) and the collector, archaeologist, and historian Bernard Bottet. Its real interest is its size which is 17.5 cm x 11 cm  or  7 x 4 and 1/3 inches.

Polynesian Sexual Customs

Polynesian Sexual Customs

The subject of sexual customs in Polynesia is permeated with misunderstandings, one of the true curiosities of the Modern Age is the historical revision being attempted on the reputation for sexual liberation of Polynesians. Strange phd thesis advance bizarre apologies for the sexual practices customary in the Pacific and so called Women's Studies writers attempt to downplay the promiscuity of Polynesian women.

Polynesian Childhood

Polynesian Childhood

It is my belief that Polynesia has much to teach us if we are prepared to open our eyes along with our minds. In traditional Polynesia Society children enjoy the sort of happy, carefree childhoods Western children could barely imagine. Firstly the environment is a tropical paradise of lagoon, sea, reef, beach and luxurious vegetation. Children are free range with little constraint, because as with most indigenous societies in Polynesia children are regarded as independent individuals with Free Will, not the property of parents.

Polynesia Art at Auction – Rosenthal Moai Kava Kava - Easter Island

Polynesia Art at Auction – Rosenthal Moai Kava Kava - Easter Island

At Sotheby's New York Salesroom on the 14 November 2008 the last great Easter Island  Moai Kava Kava figure sold for $614,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium) against an estimate of 250,000 — 350,000 USD. This was quite literally the last bus, as the chance of another figure of this quality appearing for sale is virtually zero. This figure is Oldman Collection quality and I having handled three of the Oldman Collection Moai Kava Kava I can  only say this figure is as good as these figures get.

Polynesian Collections - Auckland War Memorial

Polynesian Collections - Auckland War Memorial

The Auckland Museum has a fabulous Polynesian collection mainly centred on North Island tribal art styles. Adding to its share of the Oldman collection it gained many items from local Maori as well as the bounty of serious collectors like Sir George Grey and Gilbert Mair. Highlights are many but some that I especially admire are the huge War Waka carved in the 1840's, the famous Kaitaia Lintel and strangely enough a collection of portraits painted by a European painter.

Polynesian Collections - The Otago Museum

Polynesian Collections - The Otago Museum

The Otago Museum is in the southern city of Dunedin, on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The museum has a fine collection of mainly Eastern Polynesian Art as well as one would expect, this being New Zealand, a superb Maori Collection containing some of the finest examples of Archaic Southern Maori Art; Waitaha, Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu. The collection is ethnographically displayed, but is a well lit and cleanly arranged example of this dated type of collection presentation.

Polynesian Collections - Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand

Polynesian Collections - Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand

Te Papa Museum has built a very poor reputation with New Zealanders since it opened in 1998 at a cost of 300,000,000 NZD, so before writing this review I decided to visit Wellington specifically to see if things had changed since my last visit. Te Papa's problem is that it was planned and opened before the new wave of modern Art Museums that rode a sea change in the treatment of Tribal Art. Which is a shame because with its fabulous collections it could have been one of the greatest Tribal Art Museums in the World, instead of being an ugly building containing one of the greatest Tribal Art Collections in the World, which is believe me not the same thing.

Polynesian Collections - The Canterbury Museum

Polynesian Collections - The Canterbury Museum

The Canterbury Museum is housed in a Cecil Mundford building from the 1860's, a pleasing aesthetic building from the outside and inside a mess. Upon entry the visitor is immediately assaulted by the sight of the biggest pile of tourist crud outside of Hawaii. However by veering sharply to the right one can flee this visual abomination and come face to face with the skeleton of a Giant Moa which is to say the least impressive if somewhat unrealistically mounted.

Polynesian Material Culture - Tahitian Tapa Beater - British Museum

Polynesian Material Culture - Tahitian Tapa Beater - British Museum

At one time the most common sound in Polynesia was the sound of tapa cloth beaters striking a heavy board or squared log as village women carried on the age old craft of making tapa cloth. Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) is native to Japan and Taiwan, and its initial dispersal into the Pacific is thought to be associated with the Austronesian People, who left Taiwan 6,000 years ago travelling down through South-East Asia and Melanesia then out to Fiji, Tonga and Samoa around three thousand years ago. Of the many plants they brought with them into the Pacific the paper mulberry was amongst the most important because although these were topical islands requiring little clothing, the paper mulberry supplied their needs where modesty required covering, and as a perfect material for decoration and display.

Polynesian Material Culture - Rarotongan Tapa Cloth - British Museum

Polynesian Material Culture - Rarotongan Tapa Cloth - British Museum

Sometimes in the study of Polynesian Art History a small window opens on a world that has disappeared. This happen to me not long after I came up with the idea of writing a series of articles on Polynesian Material Culture. This term is just an fancy academic way of saying stuff;  rather like if we were discussing everyday objects in our world; everything from electric razors to tampax. These object are often common, so common no one bothers thinking about them, little own writing about them. 

Polynesian Material Culture – Tongan Kava Bowl  – Te Papa Museum

Polynesian Material Culture – Tongan Kava Bowl – Te Papa Museum

Few objects in Polynesia are so loaded with cultural symbolism as the humble kava bowl, and although this article will show fine and beautiful kava bowls in fact the word humble fits perfectly the average kava bowl in Polynesia, because most are both plain and common. The name kava is from Tongan and Marquesan; the other names for kava include ʻawa in Hawaiʻi and ava in Samoa. The roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties, like the paper mulberry another canoe plant it requires growing from a cutting.

Polynesian Material Culture - Nukutavake Canoe - British Museum

Polynesian Material Culture - Nukutavake Canoe - British Museum

The collection of this canoe is rather strange and probably relates to Captain Samuel Wallis, its collector's admiration for the ingenuity of its construction. As Steven Hooper points out at 3.87metres it must have been considerable nuisence strapped upside down on the deck of the  Dolphin on the long journey back to England. It was collected in June 1767 at Nukutavake in the Tuamotu Islands archipelago; the Tuamotus being low-lying islands with few forests, or trees large enough for a hull to be crafted from a single trunk, which explains its remarkable construction from forty-five wood sections bound together with continuous lengths of plaited coconut coir.

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