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The Meaning of Maori Kowhaiwhai Patterns

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Maori kowhaiwhai patterns

The Maori word Kowhaiwhai refers to a traditional red, white and black colored pattern. These colors resemble the origin of the Maori tribes and were commonly found on rafters and meeting houses.

More specific; they refer to ancestral lineage and genealogy. In this matter the patterns are an expression of the power and spirits of the ancestors (genealogical mana).

The names of the specific patterns on the picture are from top to bottom; Koiri,, Patiki, Kuhoro and Mangotipi.

Pictures kowhaiwhai by Visit for more patterns.

Kowhaiwhai ornamental scroll paintings traditionally decorated walls and ceilings of dining halls (whare kai) and ancestral houses (whare whakairo).

This ancient Maori tradition of creating complex and symmetrical patterns represent the stories of legendary ancestors.


Maori kowhaiwhai pendant

As with the traditional Maori face tattoos, (moko), a basic, reoccurring element in the kowhaiwhai is the koru design. In contrary to traditional art forms such as tattooing (ta moko) and wood carving (whakairo) the art of creating kowhaiwhai did not require formal training or special initiation.

Although easy accessible for many some specific creations are characterized by “sophisticated mathematical precision involving symmetry, rotation, reflection and translation”. source: Auckland Museum. Visit this page for more Maori pendants.





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