Object photography

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Object description

  • Maori artist
  • Papahou (box), 1800-1807
  • Totara wood, paua shell (abalone haliotis), tooth, stain
  • New Zealand (Aotearoa)
  • H: 6 in, W: 30 in, D: 10 in (H: 15.2 cm, W: 76.2 cm, D: 25.4 cm)
  • Gift of Captain William Richardson, 1807
  • E5505


East India Marine Society Collection


This is a Maori treasure box, or "waka," or "papahou", carved over the top and base surfaces with multiple figures, with the cover of the box fitted into the inside of the base. In addition to the surface carving there are two carved heads on each end, that face each other, and a long, central carved ridge on the cover which serves as a handle. The ridge is made of three carved figures. The top is made of six figures - two female and one male on each side, with the male and one of the females in the act of copulation. The bottom of the box is carved with six figures as well - four female and two others of a non-specific gender. The long sides are left plain. All figures have inlaid eyes of "Haliotis" shell, or human teeth. According to IPAM expert Roger Neich, the figures are manaia, or spiritual protectors for ancestors. Also, he indicates the inclusion of tooth as being very unusual, with a few examples of earrings, necklaces using tooth but very rare in carving - more likely to be obsidian, greenstone, or trade bead. He indicates this is an older form that could be from Bay of Islands and was likely made with stone tools. Collected by Captain William Richardson of the Eliza, and donated to the museum in 1807.