Maori Artifacts

Maori Artifacts are some of the most valuable and therefore sort after pieces of tribal art. There are many different Maori Artifact types, which vary depending on their Original use.

This article helps to visually show the main types of Maori Artifacts. Maori Art from New Zealand is the most well known in Polynesia.

The Maori was not the only region in the Pacific to produce sculptures. Other areas in Polynesia and New Guinea also had artifacts but the styles and uses varied.

I Buy Old Maori Artifacts and Polynesian Art. If you have one to sell please contact me. If you want to know what your Maori artifact might be worth please send me a JPeg as I would love to see it.

 Architectural Maori Artifacts

Maori Meeting House Marae

A Maori meeting house symbolizes a particular ancestor. The building similarly encloses the ancestral spirit. The ridge-pole is the ancestor’s backbone and the rafters to the ancestor’s ribs. Ceremonies and decisions were within the hallowed space of the meeting house.

There are numerous artworks associated with a Maori meeting house.

These artworks were all sacred made by a highly skilled carver-priests. Priests had to observe very specific rituals and ceremonial Taboos while making artworks.

The following is the most important architectural elements however it is far from all of them.

Post figures Poutokamanawa

Post figures or Poutokamanawa, are a post incorporating an ancestral figure. This post with figure supports the main ridge-beam of a meeting house. It is the spine of the meeting house.

Poutokamanawa are not completely naturalistic because they represent ancestral spirits. The role of the carved ancestor is to comfort and watch over their living descendants. Heads are disproportionately large because the Maori consider the head to be the center of personal power. The large hands spread over the abdomen emphasize the center of the body, the navel, believed to be the center of life force.

The navel (Maori-ora) is the link between the people still on earth and their ancestral spirits.

Individualistic tattoo patterns incised on the face of ridge pole figures may replicate those of a specific ancestor. The hair is bound up in a topknot, characteristic of a warrior chief.

Amo Side Post Figures

Amo are the side post from the front of a meeting house. A pair of Amo supports the sloping bargeboards. The side posts have carved figures that represent named ancestors of the tribal group.

Lintel Pare

A carved lintel was placed above the entrance to a meeting house. It was an important marker of the transition between realms. It marked the transition between the world outside and the sacred space. At the threshold between these two realms, people pass under a god-like ancestor.

Carved Maori lintels are some of the most spectacular examples of Maori workmanship.


Tekoteko is the general name given to free-standing sculptures. They were inside and outside the meeting house as guardians and in addition they were on the fortified village walls as protective elements.

Other Architectural Elements

Other carved elements of a Maori house include the doors of food stores and bargeboards.

Maori Canoes and Maori Canoe Artifacts

Canoes or Waka have always been important to the Maori. Maori ancestors arrived in New Zealand from central Polynesia by canoe.

The first Maori canoes were double-hulled sailing vessels designed for ocean voyaging. As the Maori became established in New Zealand the canoe design changed. Subsiquently they no longer needed to sail long distances and double-hulled canoes became less popular. Large trees like totara and kauri made it possible to build large single-hulled vessels. Instead of slow sailing double-hulled canoes the Maori canoe evolved into fast single-hulled paddle powered craft.

War canoes Waka Taua

The largest Canoe was the Waka Taua which could be up to 30 meters long and carry 100 warriors. These canoes had intricately carved spiritually empowered Bow tauihu and stern tau-rapa.

The canoe itself had a spiritual status and tribes had specific rituals related to the use of their Waka Taua.

Waka tete were every day canoes and were therefore plainer and smaller, the bow took the form of a stylized face.

Waka tiwai were the most common canoe and had no carving or art. The Maori also had rafts in the south island mokihi used to transport goods.

Maori Paddles Hoe

Most Maori paddles were plain but had a very elegant shape. Paddles used in ceremony however were intricately carved. Intricately carved paddles were popular with collectors. A tradition of carving paddles for sale to Europeans soon followed. These later carved for-sale paddles are quite common. Early examples tend to show a much higher degree of workmanship and are therefore more collectable. 

I collect Maori Paddles and other Pacific Island Paddles

Maori Artifacts Canoe Bailers Tata

Maori canoe bailers are often plain but bailers from war canoes are works of art. Unlike paddles, most Maori bailers are old however and were not reproduced for sale.

Maori Artifacts Weapons

Maori weapons are divisible into four classes, Hand Clubs, Long clubs, Thrusting weapons and Projectile weapons.

Maori weapons are not just ethnographic collectibles. Many are so superbly made as to become art objects.

I have an entire article dedicated to Maori weapons

Maori musical instruments Taonga puoro

The New Zealand Maori had over a dozen traditional instruments. Most of these instruments were wind instruments. Maori music was a spiritual way of connecting the Mother earth and Father heavens. Each instrument was created so it would have its own unique voice. Instruments often had personal names. Many of these instruments show superb craftsmanship and likewise are artworks.

Maori Pūtōrino flute

The pūtōrino is a flute unique to New Zealand. It is the best known of the maori instruments. It has a mouthpiece at one end, and a larger hole in the middle. Played as a cross-blown flute, the pūtōrino has the spirit Raukatauri’s voice, but played as a trumpet it has a male voice.
A third voice, played through the central opening, is that of Raukatauri’s mysterious daughter Wheke. The spirit Wheke is never seen and moreover is the inarticulate sounds heard in the forest.

War trumpet


Nose flute


Gourd instrument


Maori Artifacts Jewelry

Maori traditional jewelry is amongst the most refined and beautiful in the pacific. The best known and most recognized piece of jewelry is the Hei Tiki. In addition Maori also had hair combs and earrings.
The hei tiki looks like a distorted human figure sitting cross-legged, its large head tilted to one side. Hei tiki were usually worn by women, except in very rare cases. There are instances where previously infertile women have given birth after receiving a hei tiki.

Maori Treasure boxes and Maori Feather Boxes

Personal Jewelry is an important object in Maori culture. Jewelry was often worn on the head. The head is the most sacred part of the body and jewelry absorbs the supernatural power (mana) of their wearers and is carefully handled when not in use. To contain ornaments and other valuable objects, carvers fashioned treasure boxes. Treasure boxes suspended from the rafters of houses kept their precious and powerful contents out of reach. As the boxes were often seen from below, their undersides are also carved.
The designs on treasure boxes consist of human figures (tiki) that likely represent ancestors and Koru spirals.
One of the most precious possessions of a Maori chief was his Huia feathers. This is the reason these boxes are also called Feather boxes

Maori tattooing equipment

Facial tattooing in Mori culture has always been of extreme importance. The equipment used is often the best and most collectible of  Maori Artifacts.

Tattoo feeding funnels were used to feed chiefs after their face had been tattooed

Tattoo ink pots were often intricately carved miniature masterpieces.

Maori Tattoo inkpot

amongst the most collectible of

Tribal Bowls.

Polynesian Art and Articles

Other Maori Artifacts

There are other Maori Artifacts like shovels, bird-snares,  feather cloaks, and woven bags, that I have not covered in this article. If you are interested in learning more I firstly recommend Maori Art by A. Hamilton. A good search through Te Ara the Encyclopedia of New Zealand online is also full of information.

As the old artifacts were bought up by Europeans the Maori continued to carve. Many were based in Rotorua and produced superb artworks. These artworks are not really artifacts but they are still collectible in their own right. if you want to know more about these early made for sale pieces I recommend Carved Histories: Rotorua Ngati Tarawhai Woodcarving by Roger Neich

Lovely example of an early made for sale Maori Lidded Bowl.

Polynesian Art and Articles

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