Today for a Masterpiece Monday and Art Around the World two-fer, we’re traveling to New Zealand to learn about the Māori people, who are the indigenous Polynesian peoples of New Zealand. They have a rich and fascinating culture and make up about 15% of the current population of New Zealand (source). I will focus on the wharenui which is a meeting house for social and religious purposes.
When I was in graduate school, I did a project on the Māori meetinghouses. I don’t remember much, so I am off to relearn this stuff. 🙂
A wharenui, also called a whare rūnanga (“meeting house”) or whare whakairo (“carved house”), is full of symbolism and iconography. Carvings and sometimes photographs of the tribe’s ancestors fill the space. Each wharenui is usually embodies one specific ancestor, and each architectural feature of the house refers to a specific body part of that ancestor (source).
Take a look at this graphic and see if you can match up these parts of the building with a body part. Which is the head? arms? spine? fingers? heart?
- koruru – the ancestor’s head
- maihi – arms
- raparapa – fingers
- heke – ribs
- poutokomanawa – heart
- tāhuhu– backbone
There is much more symbolism here, but those are some of the basics. I could go on forever, but I have 21 more posts to write this month, so I need to move on. 🙂
Now, let’s take a quick look at the whakairo carvings. How do they make you feel? What do you think the artist was trying to say about these people they are depicting? What was the goal of these sculptures?
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The Maori people performed dances called haka. They were like a war cry or challenge with a lot of yelling, stomping, and fierce facial expressions. Along with other reasons, they were originally performed before battle in order to intimidate their opponents. Now, New Zealand sports teams perform haka before sports games. These are so fun to watch. There are tons of videos on YouTube of haka. Here is one.
Art Discussion Questions
- Look at the image with the labeled parts and see if you can match up these parts of the building with a body part. Which is the head? arms? spine? fingers? heart?
- Take a closer look at the whakairo carvings. How do they make you feel? What do you think the artist was trying to say about these people they are depicting? What was the goal of these sculptures?
Maori Meetinghouse Art Project
I’m so going to steal from my graduate school self here. I did a lesson plan that included Hinemihi, a meetinghouse that was removed from New Zealand and erected in England. Here is some snippets from that lesson plan that detail a related project. Long story short, the student connects what they learned about the symbolism in the meeting house and creates an artwork related to their own culture and self.
- After leading a discussion on the artworks, the teacher should give the student’s 15 minutes to write in their art journal. In the journal, the students will write a list of three beliefs or ideas that they personally value, three beliefs or ideas that their culture (America, ethnic group, etc.) values, three objects of personal value, and three people that they personally value.
- Then, the teacher should ask students to consider these lists made and invite students to choose at least three of the items/ideas from the list and consider how to represent those items with visual imagery or symbols and/or architectural elements. For example the long wood beam in the Maori house called the ridgepole represents the backbone of the ancestors connecting the past to the present (Hooper-Greenhill, 2000). “How could you represent the items on your list in some sort of architectural structure?” Have students write and sketch their ideas in their art journal for at least fifteen minutes.
- For the studio artmaking activity, the students will design and construct a structure or shrine to represent their personal and cultural values indicated in the list from day one. The students must incorporate at least one of the values as the conceptual focus for their piece. The teacher should introduce the project by connecting the previous journal activities and describing the process. The students, during this class period, must spend the time sketching and planning their structure including how the imagine it to look and what materials they will use and how these elements to convey their values and beliefs. The structure must be at least one foot high, be three-dimensional, and incorporate at least three different media. Possible media includes wood, wood glue, acrylic paints, collage materials, colored paper, everyday objects and materials, mosaic tiles, etc. The teacher should make the students aware of the possible media but not allow construction to occur on the first day.
There you go; thanks, Cindy-of-the-Past, for adding some extra oomph to today’s post! 🙂
More Resources and Citations
Here are some more fun lessons on Maori art from the web:
Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2000). Museums and the interpretation of visual culture. London: Routledge.