Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Related Images

Textile Designs

The finest Maori designs on textiles are those found in taniko, the coloured borders of cloaks, made of fine flax fibre. These designs were usually worked in black, red, and white. The same patterns are used in plaited baskets and floor mats, although naturally the work is coarser than in taniko. Much the same patterns occur also in tukutuku or arapaki, the reed panelling on the inside walls of superior houses. In all of these techniques the Maori had to build up his designs on a rectilinear base and could not use the curved designs so popular in his other art forms. Thus the textile designs are purely geometrical, consisting of triangles, diamonds, diagonal bars, and stepped patterns. An analysis of the patterns used in traditional taniko is to be found in Phillipps's Maori Rafter and Taniko Designs. Modern departures from tradition include such motifs as stars, fern leaves, and initial letters.

The common designs used in plaited work include nihotaniwha (dragon's teeth), a large triangle; nihoniho (little teeth), a series of small triangles; waharua (double mouth) a diamond-shaped outline; and kaokao (armpits), a motif shaped like a roman “W” or “M”. Reed panels, which are placed between the wall slabs inside a superior house, consist of toetoe reeds (kakaho) set side by side vertically, with horizontal wooden laths (kaho) lashed in front of the kakaho. The kaho are coloured red or black. On this framework, somewhat like a large cross-stitch base, coloured patterns are produced by thin strips of native grasses laced round both the kakaho and the kaho. The grass used is pingao, a bright orange coastal grass, and kiekie (Freycinetia banksii), which is bleached white, or died black by immersion in a certain type of mud found in swamps. The designs used on reed panels have intriguing names. Where the whole panel is covered with white crosses, it is called purapura whetu (star seeds). Vertical bands of white crosses are known as roimata, or tears. A diamond motif with the diamond usually filled in in colour is called patiki, or flatfish. A very common stepped design is named poutama. Many new designs have been introduced in European times. It is not uncommon nowadays to see human figures depicted on reed panels. This seems to date from the erection of the house “Porourangi”, at Waiomatatini, in the 1870s. An admirable study on reed-panelling was published by Buck in the Transactions of the N.Z. Institute, Vol. 53, 1921.

by Jock Malcolm McEwen, LL.B., Secretary, Department of Maori Affairs, Wellington.

  • The Art Workmanship of the Maori in New Zealand, Hamilton, A. (1896)
  • The Life and Work of the Maori Wood Carver, Barrow, T. (1963)
  • The Coming of the Maori, Buck, P. H. (1958)
  • New Zealand, Hochstetter, F. von (1867)
  • Maori Houses and Food Stores, Phillipps, W. J. (1952)
  • Carved Maori Houses of the Western and Northern Areas of New Zealand, Phillipps, W. J. (1955)
  • Maori Rafter and Taniko Design, Phillipps, W. J. (1960)
  • Moko or Maori Tattooing, Robley, H. G. (1896)
  • Te Ika a Maui, Taylor, R. (1855)
  • Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 42 (1933), “The Evolution of Certain Maori Carving Patterns”, Archey, G.
  • Ibid., Vol. 45 (1936), “Maori Carving Patterns”, Archey, G.
  • Ibid., Vols. 41–45, 52, 56 (1932–47), “Maori Amulets in Bone, Stone and Shell”, Skinner, H. D.
  • Ibid., Vol. 45 (1936), “A Ngaitahu Carved Skull Box”, Skinner, H. D.
  • Ibid., Vol. 57 (1948), “Maori Spirals”, Phillipps, W. J.
  • New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology, Vol. 5 (1922–23), “The Occurrence of the Lizard in Maori Carving”, Best, E.
  • Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. 53 (1921), “Maori Decorative Art, No. 1, House Panels …”, Buck, P. H.