Volume 67 1958 > Volume 67, No. 2 > A Taranaki epa, by John Houston, p 166
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THE CARVED PANEL illustrated was recovered from a swamp near Waitara on the property of Mr. A. G. Barnitt, Richmond Street, Waitara. The panel is an authentic and most interesting example of the ancient carving art of the Taranaki Maoris. Carved in relief with stone tools, the panel is an epa or slab from a superior elevated store-house. It is pierced in six places for lashings and is thirty-six inches in height, with a greatest width of ten and a quarter inches. The panel has many features characteristic of old-time Taranaki carving.

One female figure is shown and the head has the wide Taranaki forehead, which as usual with old work is pointed. The body is curved and ridged with the right arm thrust through the open mouth, then out behind the lower jaw and ending in a three fingered hand with crescent-like pointed fingers resting on the body. The left arm hooks up the left leg, which ends in a three toed foot resting on the body. The right leg is “free” at the base of the panel, beside te ara mai o te tangata,” which is carved with four teeth. The shoulder and hip joints show the spiral, Te-paki-o-Rauru. Elbow and knee joints are indicated by the usual rounded knob and the remainder of the panel is devoted to the design mata-kupenga, or “the meshes of a fisherman's net,” so frequently adopted in Taranaki carving. The foliate design puwerewere, representing the flower of the puhi maiden, appears frequently throughout with units varying from three to six. Pakati, the notched ridge or line, has been only sparingly used. The panel is reminiscent of the three examples of epa in the New Plymouth Museum, and believed by the late Mr. W. H. Skinner of New Plymouth, to have been carved by Te Tuiti-moeroa of the Awa-te-take Pa near Waitara. The back of the panel shows clearly the marks of the stone adze used in smoothing the timber, which appears to be totara.

The epa is in an excellent state of preservation for the Maori was well aware of the preservative qualities of swamps, and in times of stress he would sometimes conceal his sacred carvings there. This was done in order to save them from violation at the hands of invading war parties.

This panel is a fine bold example of true stone-age Taranaki Maori art.

  • HOUSTON, John, 1939. “A West Coast Tauihu.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 48:104-107.
  • — — 1948. “Taranaki Maori Carvings.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 57:301-304.
  • SMITH, S. Percy, 1910. History and Traditions of the Taranaki Coast. Polynesian Society Memoir Vol. 1.
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Photo by George Walker. Milmoe St.. Hawera. A Taranaki epa from Waitara.

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