Maori Cultural Expressions
The Maori are an indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand and their culture is steeped in art, both traditional designs as well as more modern ones. Because the early Maori did not use the written language as a form of communication most of their history and the events of their lives were recorded by story telling and their artistry. Maori cultural expressions are both bold and compelling.
Early Maori artists used the material at hand to create their totems, carvings, and paintings. These materials were wood, green stone, jade (greenstone – pounamu), sea shells, bone, and even skin. The art of tattooing or decorating the skin is called Moko. The colors black, white, and red feature heavily in Maori cultural expression. Some of the most well known designs are the twist, koru, and fish hook (hei matau). Here are some examples of twist pendants carved out of jade. And here some highly detailed bone fish hook necklaces.
The history of Maori cultural expression is difficult to separate from the people itself as it has (obviously) been part of their culture from the beginning and played a significant part in their daily lives. Much of the art of the ancient Maori features and was dedicated to their ancestors. There are several modern Maori artists today whose work combines much of the traditional Maori techniques and new and exciting ideas as well.
Symbolism Of Maori Art
Much of the symbolism of their cultural expressions relates to status and to individual families as much of their cultural craftsmanship has to do with their ancestors and paying tribute to those who have gone before. Moko or other types of Maori artworks are often quite beautiful and admired (of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder but it is a fact that this artistry is highly valued all over the world). In older times, the number of tattoos a Maori had often signified status, with men of high status and advancing age having a great number of tattoos. Most Maori women of the time also could have tattoos but, rather than have tattoos on various parts of their body Maori women’s Moko was only displayed on the lips and chin.
It is considered to be an insult for anyone not Maori to copy Maori art, which is why many tattoos in the Western world are not exact copies of Maori art designs or Moko patterns but, are rather inspired by the designs of these people.
Maori artists are nothing if not original which is why it is unlikely you will see two identical designs. However, there are some designs that hold special meaning and you will see these incorporated in various Maori works of art. For instance, the Koru design which is an unfurling silver fern leaf signifies the start of life, harmony, and increase so it is often found on baby gifts, wedding presents, and even corporate gifts.
The simple truth is that one does not have to understand Maori art to appreciate it’s beauty and the talent of the people who have created and continue to create this splendid designs. The beauty of these works and the talents of the artists that created them speak for themselves.