A Maori Feeding-Funnel

By: H. U. Hall

Originally Published in 1928

View PDF

IN the MUSEUM JOURNAL for December, 1920, a number of objects illustrating the native decorative art of New Zealand were published. The photographs included a realistic representation of the face moko, or incised tattooing, on a figure which probably once formed part of a house ornament (Fig. 91). Two drawings were added which were made from one of the three mokoed heads in the possession of the MUSEUM, and it was attempted to show that the characteristic grotesque outlines of many of the human faces in Maori woodcarvings were derived from the face moko. Some account was there given of the customs and traditions connected with tattooing in Maoriland, which it is here proposed to supplement in connection with the description of the feeding-funnel, four views of which are presented herewith.

These objects were used, for reasons which will shortly appear, to administer liquid food to persons who were undergoing the process of tattooing. The vessel has roughly the form of an inverted cone distorted so that the slope of one face is longer, or develops more gradually than that of the other towards a grotesque and distorted human figure which adorns the rim of the funnel on each of the faces concerned, being more prominent at the upper end of the more gradual than at that of the steeper slope.

A small funnel with a face carved into the rim, from the front
The funnel, seen from the opposite side.
Museum Object Number: P4813
Image Number: 129

The funnel shown differs chiefly from the published examples with which I am familiar in being slenderer and of more graceful form, in the shelflike projection of the rim, and in having the decoration confined to the figures and to the side and top of the rim. In all but one of the examples referred to the decoration, consisting mainly of the scrolls and spirals characteristic of Maori ornament, covers almost the whole of the surface. The exception is a modern example —made about the year 1862—the only decoration of which consists of two human figures carved in a simple style which does not represent very closely the classical Maori tradition.

Of the example here figured it may be said that, although the carving has not the careful finish which characterizes the best Maori workmanship it is extremely spirited in execution and, while preserving the conventions which typify the Maori craftsman’s representation of the human figure in all details save one, it has an individuality which is quite rare among the highly stylized productions of workmen who for mere virtuosity are unique among the woodcarvers of the Southern Pacific. The exception referred to is the giving of four or five digits to the extremities of the limbs of the figures. The classical Maori convention requires three, usually combined in the case of the hand, with a sort of spur which represents the thumb. But although this is usual, it is not invariable, and there can be little doubt of the very considerable age of this funnel, which shows clearly the tool marks of the stone implements with which it was carved. The convention in question has in fact been observed in the case of the feet of the female figure. The execution of the whole gives the impression of being due to a talented amateur rather than a professional woodcarver. It is known that chiefs and others outside of the professional ranks sometimes employed their abundant leisure in this kind of diversion.

The head of the male figure is carved upon the projecting rim of the funnel; its body and limbs appear on the tubular portion, being built up of a number of spirals and concentric arcs of circles. The hip ornaments represent the rapé or buttock pattern of the body tattoo, which, especially in flat reliefs of this nature, is made to occupy the frontal aspect of the hip joint and the inguinal region, whereas in reality it was tattooed on the sides of the nates. In the woodcarvings it was conventionally repeated, for the sake of symmetry, in the position occupied in nature by the breast and shoulder. It was probably not tattooed on the breasts in the actual moko. In the delineation of human figures, in the most characteristic cases, realism was sacrificed to the decorative intention, and the figure was built up wholly of such ornaments, suggested no doubt, in the case of the more important motifs, by the actual bodily contours, while the subsidiary ones were, in their turn, harmonized with the former. The upper concentric curves, which, between the breast-ornaments. meet and coalesce vertically into a jointed design, probably represent the sternum and ribs. The ornament made up of a doubled “circinate” spiral and filled scroll which occupies the sides and, in a modified form, the top of the heavy projecting rim is the regular ornament of the sides of the bridge of the nose. The space occupied by the face being too small for a faithful representation of the face tattoo, it is simply filled with concentric arcs, and this characteristic face ornament is transferred to the ground which it was desired to Maori art, being sometimes dictated apparently by the nature of the space which the carver wishes to fill, sometimes by a convention which represents an obscure mythic concept or the symbolic exaggeration of an otherwise significant natural posture of the body; or again, as here perhaps, one reason for the distortion is made to subserve the other. In any case it is carried out with considerable skill and with excellent effect.

The gulf of the distended open mouth is crossed by a ridge, reserved in the carving, the surface of which is cut away backwards obliquely towards the roof of the mouth to give the effect of a protruded tongue in conformity with the convention which is usual in the woodcarvings.

Two other differences in the execution of the two figures remain to be noticed. The lower part of the face of the male figure is carved on a triangular downward extension of the rim as, partially, the body of the female figure also is. But the apex of the triangle is much more obtuse, and the lozenge effect achieved in the corresponding space on the other face of the funnel is absent, the tapering top of the head being cut down in the case of the male figure to an almost imperceptible angle. Although probably in any case the upward and outward projection of this portion of the rim would, in view of the proper convention for the shape of the top of the funnel, have been less marked than that of the corresponding opposite portion, it seems likely either that the woodcarver had for this reason to cut down this part of the rim after he had completed the carving of the face, or that the accidental breaking off of the part of the rim which carried the man’s forehead—there is a crack in the wood extending diagonally upwards across the left side of the face—made it necessary to smooth off the fracture at the expense of the forehead, and to carve again the decoration of the top of the rim—if this had been completed when the fracture took place. But if the funnel was broken after it had been completed and used, it cannot have been long after its early employment, for there is little, if any, difference in the colour of the surface at this point, and the polish and rounding by use of the edge are apparently as great here as anywhere else.

The other point of difference is one which answers to usage in real life. Women’s faces were commonly tattooed only on and about the lips and at the sides of the chin. The horizontal lines on the lips which are characteristic of the woman’s tattoo can be plainly seen. The rest of the face is undecorated. I am inclined to think that the short vertical ridges which start at the corners of the distended mouth are merely intended to mark off roughly the sides of the face. It may be noted that the ornament which has been spoken of as covering the sides of the projecting rim of the funnel originates in close contact with the sides of the face of the male figure and is quite cut off from the corresponding region occupied by the head of the female, an additional reason for concluding that this ornament is intended to represent a portion of the male face tattoo which there was not room to delineate in its proper place. This ornament, when applied to the nose, was known as ngu. Women were not usually tattooed on the body. When they were, the marks differed from those of the men, though in the woodcarvings they were usually made to appear practically the same, as here. A spiral which is said by at least one authority to have been placed on men’s shoulders—apparently not involving the breasts as it does in the woodcarvings—was known as rauru.1

Tattooing in New Zealand was not directly or formally a mark of rank. Anyone could be tattooed who could afford to pay the not inconsiderable fees of the skilled tattooer. This would to a great extent make it indirectly a mark of class, since only, or at least chiefly, the well-to-do and highly placed would wear the moko. Neither was it, as so often elsewhere, a formal mark of entrance into the state of manhood or of nubility. Yet, here again, it had at least a fortuitous relation to this elsewhere common significance of the usage. For, red lips being considered ugly, the blue lines of pigment which obliterated the undesirable colour were applied to a girl before marriage; and we are informed that the skin of anyone offering him- or herself for the operation ‘must be “matured,” i.e., the candidate must be adolescent, at least.2 The elaborate moko of the men usually took years to complete.

A small funnel showing a circular design carved into the rim, side view
Side view of the funnel.
Museum Object Number: P4813
Image Number: 130, 131

The use of funnels for feeding a person whose face was being tattooed is connected with the operation in two ways. The pain and inflammation which were the result of an operation lasting for several days must have made it difficult to open the mouth widely enough to take in solid food, although a sketch is in existence of a man who had undergone moko feeding himself with a large morsel of something stuck on the end of a fern stalk. To relieve this situation the funnel, through which liquid food might be poured into the mouth, was devised. At the same time it met the requirements of the taboo with which the operation of tattooing was attended. The operator and his subject were tabooed, “unclean,” while the blood of the subject was being shed, and the subject himself must not touch his face with his hands, until the taboo had been removed and subject and operator were no longer tapu, withdrawn from common contacts, “unclean,” but noa, fitted for everyday contacts and “common” uses, “clean.” It does not seem certain, indeed, that this explanation quite covers the ground. The head generally in Polynesia was sacred, the peculiar seat apparently of mana, and the blood, its essence, would in any case be dangerous to come into contact with, except under the proper precautions. The skull, even, of a deceased person, did not lose its sacredness. One must not touch food with the hands if they had been in contact with a skull.1 It is easy to see why it might be dangerous for another to touch the wounded head of the patient when it was, so to speak, oozing with mana, but why should a man be afraid of his own mana, even when it was, in a manner of speaking, exacerbated? It looks as if the question was, indeed, one concerning the more general ritual “uncleanness” involved in touching blood.

It is sometimes said that these funnels were for the use of chiefs. In Hamilton’s Maori Art, the reference to the funnels in the index reads: “Funnels for feeding tapu chiefs;” but the legend to the illustrations (pl. LI) in the text (p. 352) has it simply that they were “used to convey more or less liquid food to a person who was being tattooed.” It seems indeed to be certain that their use was not confined to chiefs. A funnel already referred to at the beginning of this article as dating from about 1862 was made by one Wiripo Potena, a member of the tribe known as Ngati-Awa, who lived near Waitemata (? on Auckland Isthmus) for his daughter, Te Amohaere, when her lips were tattooed.

Wiripo was probably not one of the class of tohungas whose occupation was skilled woodcarving and who formed a kind of caste. Some of these men had a more than local fame. When an important building or a war canoe was to be built, the ornamental carving was entrusted to artists from a distance and such men received large fees—in kind, in the old days—for their services. If Wiripo himself was not a great artist, some of his fellow tribesmen were. The decorated house, Hotonui, which was built for Taipari, a chief of the Ngati-Maru, and is preserved in the Auckland Museum was adorned by the skill of woodcarvers from four sub-tribes of the Ngati-Awa, who worked for three years at the carvings. They refused—Art for Art’s sake—any payment beyond the food they consumed during that time and certain gifts which were then made to them. But after they had departed, a gift of one thousand pounds was sent after them, Taipari feeling that otherwise the reputation for liberality of the Ngati-Maru would be seriously impaired. It is not on record that the gift was this time spurned.2

The carvings of such chief’s dwelling houses or storehouses, or of the assembly houses of a tribe, were highly prized. If, in a country where intertribal warfare was rife, the attack of a formidable enemy was expected, the finest carvings were detached from walls or gables and hidden in a cave or swamp.1

Over an apprentice woodcarver a kind of initiation ceremony was performed, a karakia, or incantation in verse, being recited to make him apt to receive instruction. Then the apprentice was made to eat of a sacred food, whose effect was to fix such instruction firmly in his mind. Within the general tradition, each school and tribe had its own conventional methods and forms, which were to be followed closely; innovations were frowned upon, errors were omens of evil. Chips from the carving must not be used in making a fire for cooking; such an act would be a breach of the taboo on the carving, and would result in misfortune.2

The design was drawn upon the surface of the wood with charcoal or traced with the cutting edge of a chisel or graving tool. In large examples the superfluous wood within the limits of a design or surrounding it was partially removed by the application of fire, the charred remnants being chipped away with small tools. Before the acquisition of metal, stone implements were used—chisels and graving tools of fine greenstone hafted in wood, for the more delicate part of the work. The tool was driven when necessary with a light mallet of wood or whale’s bone. Both the straight-edged and the skew chisel were employed and the cutting edge had either a single or a double bevel. Gouges, though of no great depth, were used. For pierced carving, and no doubt for the preliminaries in hollowing the funnels, a stone-pointed drill rotated by a cord was used. To enlarge and smooth the hole, round tapering pieces of sandstone were employed. Burnishing was performed with pieces of sandstone ground smooth; certain small blocks of polished greenstone, agate, and chalcedony, which appear in collections, were probably used for the same purpose.3 The upper and larger portion of the bore of the funnel with which we are here concerned does not seem to have been finished in the way indicated. The rude vertical striations of the interior surface must have been made with a narrow chisel or a gouge; near the top two well marked parallel horizontal bands of fine striations on one side seem to have been made in the course of an attempt to smooth off some irregularities with a narrow stone chisel having a finely gapped edge. The dished uppermost part of the opening was no doubt made with a chisel. There is no evidence of the use of a metal tool.

Various legends were related to account for the invention of the woodcarver’s art. “According to the East Coast “—of North Island, where carving flourished exceedingly—” story the art of carving comes from the gods themselves, by whom it was first practiced. Rua-i-te-pukenga introduced carving into this world, having acquired it in the realm of Rangi-Tamaku, the second of the twelve heavens, counting upwards from the earth. Names commencing with Rua signify the personified forms of many kinds of knowledge.” Several other names are connected with the introduction of the art of carving, including that of Mataora, who is said to have introduced carving and tattooing to the upper from the lower world. According to one story Mataora’s knowledge descended to Rua, while in another version the latter learned the art from “a tribe of wood fairies in Hawaiki”—the traditional ancient home of the Polynesians. Ordinary mortals were apparently incapable of even such small improvements as cleaning the wood dust and small chips out of incisions. This bright idea is attributed to another Rua, while a third taught that these should be left in place in order that the red ochre mixed with shark oil which was sometimes applied to woodcarvings for their preservation as well as their adornment might the better adhere to the wood. Another story attributes to Rua-te-pupuke the invention of all whakairo, or the whole art of design, applied not only to woodcarving but also to tattooing and to the decoration of garments with the taniko or border. According to Hamilton the inventor “of the present pattern or style of Maori carving” was Rauru, the son of Toi. The same name, as we have seen, was applied to the shoulder pattern in tattooing.1 The insistence on the inclusion of the three chief forms of Maori artistic effort under one main heading is a feature of the Mataora story, as we shall see.

There is another and rather dramatic account of the invention of woodcarving which attributes to it, in its origin, a realism not belonging to its best later development. The climax depends for its drama upon a situation which is not strange to Western dealers in anecdote. Rua, it is said, lived in the very distant past. Once, when he paid a visit to “the Polynesian Neptune,” Tangaroa, the latter showed him with great pride the decorations by a certain Hura-Waikato with which his house was adorned. Though Tangaroa had called these “carvings,” Rua was astonished to find that they were nothing but painted figures like those which are still painted on rafters. He invited Tangaroa to visit him and be shown what real carvings were like. When he arrived at Rua’s house, Tangaroa went up and rubbed noses, in accordance with polite usage, with a figure he saw standing in front of it. He was “overcome with shame ” when Rua came laughing out of the house and showed him how he had been deceived by the lifelike appearance of an effigy in wood.2

A small funnel, showing circular designs carved into the rim, top view
Top of the funnel
Museum Object Number: P4813
Image Number: 132

Another version of this story introduces still another claimant to the honour of having invented the decoration of houses with realistic figures, and also purports to account for the three-fingered convention. Nuku-mai-teko, also known as Mutu-wai-teko, was one of the ancestors of the Maori people in their old home, Hawaiki. He had only three fingers on each hand and reproduced this peculiarity in all the figures he carved. He built a house in which all the side slabs were adorned with these figures. Tangaroa came to visit him, and, entering the house, greeted Nuku with the customary hongi, or nose-rubbing. “Then, seeing in the dim light of the interior a tattooed chieftain-like figure standing at the side of the whare (house) he approached and advanced his nose to that of the other in the greeting courtesy of the hongi. To his amazement he found that the tattooed chief was nothing but a wooden effigy.”1 Rua’s naturalism was the more perfect; his masterpiece deceived Tangaroa in the broad light of day!

The story of Mataora, who had his painted and transient personal adornment replaced in the underworld by a permanent moko and returning to the upper world taught the latter art to his fellow men, is sometimes cited in support of the opinion that tattooing really did replace an earlier custom of face and body painting, which, as a matter of fact, was also practised by the tattooed Maori, who smeared also their clothing with red ochre mixed with oil.

As in the case of woodcarving, more than one hero, as well as more than one version of the adventures of the same hero, is connected with the introduction of moko to men. As Rua—or several Ruas—shares with Rauru and Nuku and even with Mataora himself the credit of bringing the art of woodcarving to men, so Mataora and Tama divide that of introducing moko. The story of Tama, like that of Mataora, treats tattooing as a development from face and body painting.

Tama-mu-a-Raki, a very ugly man, was deserted by his wife, who could no longer endure life with one who was so disagreeable to look at. He took the shape of a heron and flew off to the underworld to ask his ancestors to make him beautiful. They painted graceful curved lines, like their own tattooing, on his face and body, but he found that these marks were not permanent and was told that ineradicable markings could only be acquired through visiting other ancestors who dwelt with the guardians of the Door of Darkness at the entrance to the Land of Death. There he underwent the operation of tattooing during many days of suffering. When he returned to his home all the women acclaimed his beauty and his pain was forgotten as he looked upon his wife and saw “her face radiant with smiles and heard her voice of joyful greeting.”1

Mataora’s story, related briefly by Tregear, is told with much greater detail in a collection, translated and annotated by S. Percy Smith, of legends and myths taken down by two educated Maori in the Fifties of the last century from the mouths of two aged tohungas as part of the lore which was formerly taught in the Whare-Wananga or school of Maori learning.2

Niwareka, a great-granddaughter of the goddess of the underworld, accompanied by a number of other Turehu, or flaxen-haired girls, came up into the world to amuse themselves. They awoke Mataora, who was asleep in his house, and after he had entertained them with food they danced before him. He fell in love with Niwareka and married her; but one day, being jealous of her familiarity with his elder brother, he beat her and she left him and returned to her old home.

Mataora set out to seek his wife; for, though apparently of a less submissive nature than Tama, he seems to have been equally uxorious. He came first to the fatherland of the Maori, where is the entrance to the underworld, Rarohenga, at a house called Hawaiki-of-the-Solstice. There are four doors of this house, whence come forth the winds which, blowing in the direction of the four cardinal points, have spread abroad the children of the Sky-Father and Earth-Mother upon the bosom of the Mother. To this house the dead return, each from his own quarter, to his particular door. They who love the Earth-Mother go hence to Rarohenga, but they who love the Sky-Father proceed by the eastern door on their way to the home of the high god Io.

Mataora, being still in the flesh, had, as we have seen, his own reasons for professing love for Mother-Earth, and proceeded accordingly. Having reached the guardhouse which stopped his way into Rarohenga, he asked the warder if he had seen a woman pass that way—” She had a straight nose and long flaxen hair.” Long ago the warder had seen her pass by, weeping, and he allows Mataora to go on. Again half-way down the descent he hears news of her and her
distressful looks, and at last he reaches the village of his father-in-law, Ue-tonga, whom he found engaged in tattooing someone.

Now in those days, on Earth, men were “tattooed” on the alæ of the nostrils, on the bridge of the nose, on the forehead and temples, while women had a cross on the forehead and one on each cheek, with sometimes a mark on the nostrils. And this “tattooing” was in reality painting in blue and red clays, or, for very dark-skinned people, in white and red. Decoration of houses was in white and red clay and charcoal; there was no carving. “These were the only and original adornments in former times.”

Mataora and his father-in-law fall into a dispute concerning the nature and nomenclature of moko, Mataora being surprised to see the blood-letting involved in Ue-tonga’s procedure, and the latter rubs off Mataora’s face painting with his hand, thus exposing him to the ridicule of the onlookers. He is then taught that there are two kinds of carving or whakairo—which also means ornamentation in general—namely, that practised by women in making the ornamental borders of cloths, and that practised by men, of which the carved head of a wooden halbert is shown as an example. Moko is, properly, also an example of the latter. Mataora, convinced now that the Shades have the right of the matter, demands to have his vanished moko replaced, and is properly tattooed by Ue-tonga, who first summons artists to trace the patterns with charcoal on his son-in-law’s face. Mataora, racked with anguish, bursts into a lament for his wife:

“Niwareka, that art lost, where art thou?
Show thyself, O Niwareka!
‘Twas love of thee that dragged me down here below, Niwareka! Niwareka! Love eats me up!
Niwareka! Niwareka! Thou bast bound me fast, Niwareka! Niwareka! Let us remain in the world, Niwareka! Niwareka! Leave behind this Rarohenga, Niwareka! Niwareka!—and thus end my pain.”

No doubt Ue-tonga, thinking of his daughter’s contusions, struck the bone chisel harder with every ejaculation of that name. But Niwareka’s younger sister, overhearing the plaintive song, went and told her that there was a handsome fellow suffering under her father’s mallet, who called in his agony on her name. She and her yellow-haired companions went to see for themselves and then sent the sister to fetch him to their village. This she did in spite of Ue-tonga’s annoyance at having his sport interrupted.

There is a naïve pathos in the manner in which the reunion of these sundered lovers is related. Niwareka seats herself near her husband. She asks: “‘Art thou Mataora?’ He bowed his head and holding out his arms towards Niwareka opened and shut his hands. Niwareka then knew it was indeed Mataora and she began the usual tangi over Mataora; the kauri was like laughter.” The opening and shutting of the hands, palm downwards, is the old Maori way of beckoning. The tangi is the conventional weeping at the meeting of friends. Kauri in this context refers to the moko, one of the pigments used for which was prepared from soot made by burning the wood of the kauri pine. The storyteller’s analogy of beauty and laughter reveals a poet.

After living together for some time in Rarohenga, Mataora persuades his wife to return with him to the upper world, promising her father to follow the customs of Rarohenga—where all is sweetness and light—up there; in other words, not to beat his wife again. They set out together, but at the guardhouse at the foot of the slope leading up to man’s world they are advised by the warder to turn back and wait until “November of the summer”—we are in the southern hemisphere—for “the world is now full of evil,” of wintry ills. In summer’s November they set forth again, and passed two guard-houses on the road to the upper air. At the third, which was kept by an uncompromising fellow who seems to have been brought up in the best traditions of the Revenue Department, they were stopped and questioned. Mataora, with typical masculine docility in the face of official authority, gave a full inventory of his baggage. He was taking with him to the upper world, he said, the models of the moko-whakatara, or woodcarving, of the moko-whakanyao, or face-tattoo, and of the whakairo-pae-pae-roa, or ornamental border of mats. Niwareka with the disarming candour of a perfect lady accustomed to the inconsiderate behaviour of these frontier inquisitors owned up to having some old clothes in her bag. Passed, and no doubt triumphing in her defeat of an unreasonable curiosity, she went on with virtuous Mataora to the last gate, where to her astonishment she found the same prying fellow again, and what was still more annoying, discovered that he knew she was in possession of contraband and even what it was. But she carried off this most embarrassing situation with an air. Taking out a brand-new cloak she had made for Mataora, she insisted that the warder should keep it there, in order that its taniko (border) might remain a “pattern for the world and for Rarohenga.” This was too much for the official. He reduced the quota to zero forthwith, declaring that henceforth the living should never pass into Rarohenga again —shades alone, of unimpeachable simon-purity, “shall tread both the upper and the lower worlds.”

Thus these arts were brought into the world and taught to the people. The original motifs of the tattooing were those which Mataora saw in Rarohenga—the markings on the nostrils, on the bridge of the nose, and on the temples. The later elaborations were first carved on a figure which formed the finial of the gable of a house decorated by Nuku-te-aio and Rua-i-te-pupuke. Here we meet the Nukus and Ruas again. Evidently, in the official view, they were not the inventors but rather the developers of the decorative arts.

Cite This Article

Hall, H. U.. "A Maori Feeding-Funnel." The Museum Journal XIX, no. 1 (March, 1928): 85-99. Accessed April 24, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/9063/


This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to digitalmedia@pennmuseum.org.