Volume 57 1948 > Volume 57, No. 3 > Paddle forms in Murihiku, by H. D. Skinner, p 256-267
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THE Maori canoe-paddle which is familiar because of its frequency in private collections and in the collections of northern and overseas museums has a flat, narrow, very elongated blade, a slightly curved handle, and a terminal handle-knob. There are, of course, variations in this general pattern, and it is probable that most of the variations will ultimately be shown to have historical significance. But only two variations call for mention here, both occurring on the back of the blade. 1 The first is a narrow band of decorative carving running from point of junction of handle and blade down the back for about half its length. Apparently this is a vestige of the ancient functional rib prolonging the handle. Several examples of the band have been seen by the writer, but its relative frequency is not known. The second feature is a slight ridging of the outer edges of the proximal part of the back of the blade. This feature, vestige of a stage when the sides of the blade were normally inclined at an angle to each other, has been seen by the writer only once, and must be exceedingly rare.

The numerous oil-stained and smoke-darkened paddles which were a conspicuous feature of private collections fifty years ago and are still a feature of most museum collections, and which are referred to in the preceding paragraph, were virtually all collected in the North Island. It is probable that an occasional paddle was collected from the scanty Maori communities in the South Island, but their form is unknown; the writer is unaware of any recorded case. On the other hand, occasional examples have been found in southern districts in caves, or in swamps, or have been retrieved from lakes, and all of these known to the writer are of a form strongly contrasting with the recent northern shape discussed above. In the present paper discussion is restricted to paddles of this group found in the Murihiku region.

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Fig. 1 represents a paddle in Otago Museum, “found on the shore of Lake Waipori, three feet below the surface.” Its length is 257 cm. The carving terminating the handle appears to represent a bird's beak. A conventionalized bird's head was sometimes carved at this point on northern Maori paddles. 2 In Fig. 1 a reduction in all dimensions except length seems to have taken place, presumably due to scaling of surface consequent on long immersion in water-logged ground. Front of blade is convex transversely. Back is concave transversely. The handle is continued down the back of the blade as a clearly defined ridge. The distal point of the blade appears formerly to have been much more massive than at present, and to have lost bulk by scaling. The point has been hooked backward, but part of hook is lost. Such a feature seems designed to discharge the functions of a boat hook. The great length of the paddle would make it unwieldy for ordinary paddling; presumably it was used for steering. It was figured by Hamilton in Maori Art, unnumbered plate between pages 40 and 41.

Fig. 2, in the possession of Mr. D. C. Aubrey, was found by his son, the late Flying Officer Aubrey, in a shelter formed by a huge rock, close to the western shore of Lake Wanaka. Length 180 cm. The carving on the upper end of the handle appears non-representational. Lower end of handle is continued medianly down back of blade as a well-executed ridge. Distal point of blade is thickened and slightly hooked forward. A point of interest, though not bearing directly on the present discussion, is the rendering of the upper edge of the front of the blade as a pair of curves. These are the “brow ridges” of an archaic type of Maori weapon related forms of which are widely spread in the Pacific. 3

Fig. 3, Southland Museum, is 162 cm. long, and was found in a hollow tree on the bank of the Waiau River, Southland. The blade has split and has been mended by three pairs of chiselled holes, two pairs still retaining the flax binding. Handle is continued as ridge down back of blade. Distal point of blade is thickened and slightly curved forward.

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Fig. 4, 184 cm. long, Otago Museum, was found in a cave at Bendigo, Central Otago. Handle is continued as ridge which divides in two. Blade is carved so that it resembles a separate piece secured to handle by unseen pegs. Point is curved back, so that side view of the whole blade resembles the side view of the Lake Ellesmere pendant which I have described as taniwha or crocodile. 4 The back of this paddle is shown by Hamilton in the plate previously mentioned.

Fig. 5, 171 cm. long, Otago Museum, was found in 1874 on “bank of Lake Waihola.” The handle knob has its upper edge flanged backward, as is the case also in Fig. 6. Distal end of handle is expanded into a very well-carved stylized head, the eye indicated by a single spiral. Point of blade is damaged but appears to have been curved back, as in the point of Figs. 1 and 4. Back shown by Hamilton in plate already mentioned.

Fig. 6, 130 cm., Otago Museum, found on Taieri Plain near Wingatui, has handle knob treated in the same way as Fig. 5. Handle is prolonged as a ridge along back of blade, only a small part of which has been preserved.

Fig. 7 represents a paddle in the New Zealand section of Museum für Völkerkunde, Dahlem, Berlin. No locality or circumstances of collection are recorded, but it is closely allied in form to Figs. 5 and 6, and more generally to the whole group here discussed.

There are in Otago Museum two other paddles with handle prolonged into median ridge on back of blade. Both were found in Otago.

Fig. 8, length 158 cm., Otago Museum, represents a paddle from Napuka in the outer Tuamotus which is closely allied to the whole group of Murihiku paddles. It is the generalized form from which the familiar specialized paddles of Marquesas and Mangareva have developed. Development in the North Island of New Zealand has proceeded from a similar type of paddle but in a different way, namely by simplification, ending in the numerous and familiar North Island paddles mentioned at the beginning of this paper. It may be regarded as certain that paddles of the same form as those of Figs. 1-7 will be found in northern swamps, and possibly in caves. In the marginal south, as at Napuka, evolution stood still.

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  • Fig. 1.—Otago Museum. D.26.1015. Length 255 cm. “Shore of Waipori Lake, 3 feet below surface.” Found and presented in early days of Museum by H. Davis and F. Bishop. Back figured by Hamilton.
  • Fig. 2.—In the possession of Mr. D. C. Aubrey, Cattle Flat. Length 180 cm. Found by the late Flying Officer Aubrey about 1930 in a dry shelter formed by a fallen rock near west shore of Lake Wanaka.
  • Fig. 3.—Southland Museum. Length 162 cm. Hollow tree on bank of Waiau, Southland.
  • Fig. 4.—Otago Museum. D.20.226. Length 182 cm. Found by John Evan in a cave at Bendigo, Central Otago, and presented by Vincent Pike in 1877. Back figured by Hamilton.
  • Fig. 5.—Otago Museum. D.47.57. “Found in October, 1874, 2 feet below the surface when cutting a ditch on the shore of Lake Waihola.” Back figured by Hamilton.
  • Fig. 6.—Otago Museum. D.45.1483. Length 130 cm. Collected and presented by Mr. F. E. McLean. Dug up at Wingatui, Taieri Plain.
  • Fig. 7.—Museum für Völkerkunde, Dahlem, Berlin. From pencil sketch.
  • Fig. 8.—Otago Museum. D.27.889. Length 158 cm. Napuka, Tuamotus.
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FIG. 1.
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FIG. 2.
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FIG. 5.
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FIG. 6.
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FIG. 7.
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FIG. 8.
1   By “back” is meant the surface which is pressed against the water when a normal paddle stroke is made. “Front” is the other side of the blade.
2   Angas. New Zealanders, PI. 42, No. 6, Taupo.
3   J.P.S., Vol. 40, p. 187.
4   J.P.S., Vol. 56 (1947), p. 358, Fig. 199.