Maori Spear – New Zealand

A traditional Maori staff (taiaha), carved from a single piece of hardwood and endowed with a deep, warm patina of age. The 'tongue' of the staff (arero), used to deliver stabbing blows and sharp strikes, is meticulously carved with swirling motifs typical of the Maori canon, and its adjoining head (upoko) shows finely formed features, with a fierce gaze and patiently worked decorative detailing. The head of the staff is figurative; with two eyes and a protruding tongue. Following the shaft downward, careful inspection reveals a piece of script incised midway down the flank. At its base the shaft widens, gaining mass to balance the weapon.

The taiaha presented here was created for use in a martial training school for youths (para whakawai), hence its smaller size. Martial exploits were an important part of traditional Maori society, and children were prepared for combat from an early age. In the para whakawai young men learnt mau rākau (the use of weapons), took instruction in group formation and melée tactics, and engaged in mock battles.

Though a deadly force in the hands of a trained Maori warrior, the taiaha also figures in peaceful contexts such as the wero ceremony, a ritual greeting to visiting parties that involves displays of martial prowess.

Ex Galerie Franck Marcelin; ex private US collection.

19th Century

L 53"
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