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.





The various elements of carving designs have already been discussed. Generally speaking, these elements can be used in these three ways: human figures only, human figures interspersed with manaia, human figures and pitau spirals.

Human Figures Only: In major carvings it is common for one human figure in a vertical position to fill a whole slab. Examples may be seen on the amo (vertical slabs at the front of a house) and the poupou (wall slabs of a house). Sometimes the amo or poupou depict two or more figures, one above the other, and occasionally a full figure stands on the head of another which lacks a body. The papaka or skirting board between each two poupou often has a single human figure with a body in a horizontal position. Series of such figures may also be used in various positions such as the skirting board on the outer side of the front wall.

Human Figures Interspersed with Manaia: Full-faced figures interspersed with profile figures may be used in various ways. The complete figures may be used in a vertical position This is common on the outer threshold and the side walls of large pataka. Again, complete figures may be used in horizontal positions in such places as window frames, skirting boards, and the strakes of a war canoe. Full-faced heads may be flanked by either complete manaia or by manaia heads only. This arrangement may be seen on narrow window sills or in other narrow facing boards.

Human Figures and Pitau Spirals: The open spiral (pitau or takarangi) may be used to separate complete human figures (including manaia) or the heads of such figures. Such designs are used on war canoes and on houses. In the latter case they are found on door lintels, window frames, skirting boards, and the lower edge of the maihi.

The Use of Manaia to Embellish Major Human Figures: In many post-European houses the main slabs are carved with human figures which take up the full width of the slab from top to bottom. This is particularly so in modern Arawa houses. In older examples, however, the head of the figure narrows in quite considerably from the forehead to the mouth. This is usual in the beautiful carvings of the Gisborne district and older work from the Bay of Plenty. The spaces on each side of the head are filled up with manaia. In old Arawa carvings the mouth of the manaia is lengthened to an extraordinary degree, and the long, narrow body of the manaia is superimposed on the body of the main figure. Manaia are also used to fill the spaces below the elbows of the main figure, and the space between the legs. It is not uncommon for the forearms, hands, or feet of a main figure to be carved as manaia.

Next Part: Painted Designs