Maori Art

Maori art is inseparable from their culture. They used materials such as bone, wood, flax, feathers, pounamu (greenstone) and shell; constructed their own tools for scraping, carving and painting. Red, black and white was the most commonly-used colors and each of them had a symbolic meaning. The traditional Maori art can be divided into three main disciplines: dance and drama, music and the visual arts.

Maori Visual Arts 

Maori Ta MokoMaori visual art consists mostly of four forms: carving, tattooing (ta moko), weaving and painting. Carving was done in three media:  wood, bone and stone. Wood carving was used to decorate houses, fence poles, weapons and many other objects. The most popular type of stone used in carvings was greenstone. Stone and bone were used to make jewelry and different kinds of tools.  Carving was traditionally performed by men only.

Traditional tattooing or ta moko is widely popular aspect of their art.  James Cook wrote in 1769: “The marks in general are spirals drawn with great nicety and even elegance. One side corresponds with the other. The marks on the body resemble foliage in old chased ornaments, convolutions of filigree work, but in these they have such a luxury of forms that of a hundred which at first appeared exactly the same no two were formed alike on close examination.”

Weaving was used to create various things, including wall panels as well as clothing and bags. For example, cloaks could be decorated with feathers. After the coming of Europeans, cotton, wool and other textiles were also used. Weaving was done by women.

Painted art forms stand alone or are used with mixed media work. The earliest form of painted arts (Kowhaiwhai) is the rock art. Designs of the rock art represent wildlife, human figures and mythical creatures. When kowhaiwhai is compared to carving and tattooing, several contrasts are apparent. Kowhaiwhai requires no special rituals, no formal training and therefore, can be carried out by anyone. Such freedom to explore and create is not enjoyed in the art forms of wood-carving and tattooing. Today Maori art traditions occur in the world. The interest in their contemporary art is growing and helping to revive the creative energy of the past Maori art.

Dance and Music

Maori Rock Art

The very central part of Maori art is music, poi, dance and drama. Drama and dance cannot be separated. While haka is a generic name for all dances, it is more than dance alone. More than any other aspect of their culture, this complex dance is an expression of the identity of the race. Music is connected with the dances. It includes a wide variety of folk music styles which comes from spirituality, the heart and the mind, from the remnants of ancestors.  Maori musical instruments are the part of the art. But there is very little recorded information about it. The traditional musical instruments can be grouped into four main areas:  drums with vibrating covers, direct percussion as wooden gongs, wind instruments and string instruments. One of the best known and used instruments is the koauau, a hollowed tube made from bone or wood with two to five finger holes.