Volume 31 1922 > Volume 31, No. 124 > A type of Maori carved wooden bowl, by H. D. Skinner, p 182-184
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 182

ONE of the commonest of Maori utensils in pre-European times was the kumete, or wooden bowl. Examples have been found in caves and swamps in all parts of New Zealand; their absence in the Chatham Islands is perhaps due to the absence there of suitable wood from which they might be made. Bowls decorated with carving have a much more limited distribution, ancient examples being absent, so far as I am aware, from districts south of the line Patea-Hawke's Bay. This is probably to be attributed to the decline in culture correlated with harder climatic conditions as we move south. The decoration varies from a simple band of beading or of looped coils round the outer edge, to elaborate designs such as pairs of human supporters with outstretched arms almost encircling the bowl.

Perhaps the most homogeneous group is that which represents a four-legged animal of indeterminable species. The animal can hardly be other than the dog, which the Maoris brought with them to New Zealand, or the pig, which was traditionally remembered. This latter identification is favoured by comparative Solomon Island material. There is in the University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge, a kumete of this type, which is probably the finest of its kind, and is certainly one of the finest pieces of Maori workmanship in existence. Its history is unknown. It was purchased in London and presented to the museum by Sir Julius Werner, Bart. Figure 1, A, shows the general proportions of the bowl, which is 20·8 inches wide and 39·9 inches long. The upper surface of the tail is converted, by means of a deep groove, into a spout or lip by means of which the liquid contents of the bowl might be poured out. Figure 1, B, shows the bowl lying on its back, and exhibits the beautiful designs decorating the body. In the left pectoral region there is a piece of poorly executed modern work in striking contrast with the sureness and beauty of the rest. For these two photographs I have to thank Dr. A. C. Hadden, F.R.S., and Mr. W. Bird.

Figure 2 represents a bowl of similar type, but smaller, in the collection of the Bankfield Museum, Halifax, Yorkshire. As in the previous example, three toes are shown on each foot. A small piece has been broken out of the upper lip. Teeth are homodont and

- i
- ii
- 183

numerous. The tail is not grooved. The decorative designs are excellently executed with steel tools. For this photograph I have to thank Mr. H. Ling Roth, Hon. Curator of the Bankfield Museum.

Figure 3 represents a kumete, 22½ inches in length, in the collection of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University. This interesting specimen, though old, gives proof of European influence in two respects: first, in the timid treatment and poor execution of the decorative designs, and secondly in the influence of realism on the conception of the head. The carver had abandoned the conventional conception exemplified in Figures 1 and 2, and he attempted to render realistically the head of a dog. In the details of lips and ears, however, he retained the conventional treatment. A similar, but still more realistic rendering of a dog's head, may be seen on a bowl in the Canterbury Museum collection. In Figure 3 the tail is absent, and the limbs are damaged. For this photograph I have to thank Mr. H. Willoughby, Curator of the Peabody Museum of Harvard University.

Mr. Harry G. Beasley has been good enough to send me a drawing of a kumete of similar type to these, which was sold in London some years ago. Its purchaser, a dealer, who paid £25 for it, subsequently sold it to the museum at Dresden, where it now is. An extremely interesting kumete, also belonging to this class, is in Mr. Beasley's collection, and has been figured and described by its owner in “Man” (1919, p. 36). This specimen is undoubtedly a hybrid between a bowl and a feather-box. In decoration it is a feather-box, having the two usual female figures, with decorative designs filling the space between, and no suggestion whatever of the animal legs present in the specimens figured in this paper. There is, however, a sturdy tail, which occupies the space that should have been reserved for the head of one of the female figures. The head of the other female figure has been greatly influenced by the conventional conception of an animal head exemplified in Figures 1 and 2. Mr. Beasley was not able to supply me with photographs of this exceptionally interesting specimen, but it may be studied in the illustrations to his note already mentioned.

Unfortunately the locality of none of these specimens has been preserved. Their strong family likeness, however, points to a common origin, and I suggest the Arawa district, from Maketu on the coast, to Roturoa, as the probable locality.

Their use is recorded by Meade, 1 who saw one in use at Maketu, “handsomely carved out of a single block of wood.… The only - 184 means of boiling food was by continually dropping red-hot stones into wooden bowls of water.”

Though having such a limited distribution in New Zealand, four-legged bowls occur widely distributed in the South Seas. Examples have been recorded in both Polynesia and Melanesia. The form most closely related to the kumete already figured occurs in the Solomon Islands, and is exemplified by Figure 4. This example is from the northern coast of San Cristoval, and was collected and presented to the Otago University Museum by the Rev. C. E. Fox, Litt. D. In the same museum is a very similar figure of a pig cut in wood, but not in the form of a bowl, from the Massim region, off south-east New Guinea. I have not been able to ascertain whether the form is found in Indonesia.

For the photographs illustrating this paper I have to thank the gentlemen already named, and for permission to figure them my thanks are due to the institutions in whose collections they are.

1   “A Ride Through the Disturbed Districts of New Zealand.” London, 1871, p. 19.