Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The model Maori canoes

The Maoris of New Zealand built impressive war canoes (waka) up to about 100 feet long and 10 feet wide. A war canoe is said to have carried a party of over 70 warriors, and sometimes over 100.  They featured decorative carving along the sides, a soaring decorative stern piece, and lashed-on gunwale strakes. Occasionally the bow and stern were carved separately and lashed onto the open ends of the main hull, but more often, bow and stern were integral with the hull. 

Whitby Museum has two amazing models of Maori War Canoes.  For a number of years they have been displayed on top of one of the cabinets so when we moved them into storage while the room is decorated I was able to get a much closer look at them and for the first time see into them.  Over the next couple of weeks I am intended to gently remove some of the accumulated dust ready for them to be re-displayed.  

This is the handle end of one of the paddles that was inside the smaller model.  This figure (female I think) is wrapped around the end of the handle and carved in quite a lot of detail.  It is tiny (I realise that I should have measured it to give some idea of the scale).  The whole length of the paddle is carved but I was fascinated by this little bit, partly because most of the other carved figures on the model are clearly male.
This is two figures sitting back to back and absolutely covered in patterns.

And this third picture is of a section of one of the cross braces (were they seats for the rowers?)  I love the patters across its surface.  This one has two male figures lying on their backs, one at each end - you can just see the feet of one of them on the left edge of the photograph.  These two figures have a bit of damage.  Each of the cross braces on this model has different patterns.

While I was trying to find a bit more information I found an interesting photo-essay by Associate Professor Tony Whincup on the following link
Although he is describing a form of outrigger canoe (a completely different thing to the model war canoe I have been looking at) it was fascinating to see how the bindings are made as we have many objects with this style of binding in the museum collection.  He describes and shows the making of a traditional canoe of Kiribati, using local resources and although the canoe is very much part of the male domain he says the "women play a vital role of making sennit string. After several months of soaking the coconut husk in the lagoon, women tease the fibres from it. Rolling the fine strands on their thighs, skein after skein of string is made. This string is used in every aspect of the canoe's construction. With it the planks of the hull are stitched together, the outrigger is lashed on and all spars are held firmly in place."

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