MAK
CRAFT IN NEW ZEALAND 
New Zealand is an ancient land. It rose from the 
South Pacific ocean some one hundred and twenty 
million years ago and for unimaginable ages, at the 
dictates of earth forces, sank into the surrounding 
seas and rose again to become land. The age of 
reptiles ended and the ice ages were a moment in 
their passing, but whereas other lands developed a 
fauna of flesh eating animals, this land until the 
advent of man, a mere one thousand years ago, was 
host only to birds and fish, one harmless lingering 
relic of the dinosaurs, the Tuatara, two tiny species of 
bats and a host of small winged and crawling 
creatures. There were no humans, no carnivores, no 
snakes; just huge sombre forests, echoing hollowly 
with the songs of birds, open plains, towering 
mountains, lakes and rivers. 
Today, three million people live in New Zealand of 
whom about eight per cent are of predominantly 
Maori ancestry and about ninety per cent of British 
descent. There are small ethnic groups from almost 
every European country, the Islands of the Pacific, 
and Asia, most with still plainly recognisable cultural 
backgrounds and preserving to some extent their 
racial Identity. One out of every five people lives in 
rural areas occupied with farming and associated 
activities, the remainder live in towns and eitles. 
The first people this land saw were Polynesiens, the 
ancestors of the present Maori race, who began to 
arrive on these shores a thousand years or more ago, 
bringing with them their traditionel crafts or at least 
the knowledge and skills to reproduce them. These 
crafts immediately needed modification because of 
the new materials that confronted them. A plentifui 
supply of fibre from a hemp-like plant (Phormium 
tenax) was to prove ideal for cordage, nets, matting, 
baskets and clothing. Loom weaving had either been 
abandoned in their last homeland or had never been 
known to them and in place of this weaving they 
developed a finger twining technique in which the 
warp threads were hung from a cord suspended 
between two vertical sticks.and around each loose 
hung warp the weft thread was twined in single pairs 
and later in double pairs. Feathers of birds were 
sometimes inserted in each twining to make a 
warmer and more elaborate cloak. 
Until the arrival of the Europeans they were a Stone 
age people and found in New Zealand stone suitable 
for fashioning into cutting and carving tools, and also 
into weapons. A form of jade, nephrite, was also 
here, capable of taking a razor edge. From it were 
made a ränge of personal Ornaments such as the Tiki, 
the Pekapeka and other pendants, as well as a variety 
of adzes and chisels. 
The trees were large and plentifui and two of them, 
the KAURI and the TOTARA were ideal carving 
timbers. From them they fashioned huge dug out 
canoes sometimes 30 metres in length, with 
elaborately carved prows and stern pieces, and 
marvellously vital sculptures of ancestors and gods in 
deep bas relief. These carvings were also 
incorporated into buildings such as storehouses and 
meeting houses. Smaller pieces included clubs and 
spears, paddles, agricultural tools, boxes and bowls. 
Maori craft styles varied considerably throughout 
New Zealand, reflecting the traditions of their 
homelands, as well as the separate development of 
each more or less isolated tribe. This slow change 
common to crafts worldwide, was violently 
accelerated with the arrival of European culture in 
the early 19th Century, an acceleration which led to 
the eventual destruction of the great majority of the 
traditional arts and crafts. 
By the end of the 18th Century, European peoples 
were landing on the coasts and within forty years 
colonisation had begun in earnest. 
Inevitably the introduction of superior tools made 
from iron was welcomed by the Maori craftsman; the 
carefully sculpted form, sparingly decorated to 
enhance only, to point out and emphasise, perhaps 
dictated by the economy of the stone tool, was 
superseded by the hurriedly blocked out shape 
covered by an intricate and often meaningless veneer 
of carved design, spurred on by the facility of that 
new V-shaped Steel chisel. 
The real purpose and significance of most crafted 
Objects, cloaks, paddles, clubs, adzes, fish hooks and 
Ornaments vanished in a changed society, Only those 
with a continuing function, such as kitmaking, 
matting and carved meetinghouses, retained their 
vigour. Sometimes a new purpose was provided.
	        

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