Warrior Chief Te Rauparaha, fixed in his canoe

By | October 15, 2014
Atua 1

Aotearoa (New Zealand); Warrior Chief Te Rauparaha, fixed in his canoe, c.1835; wood, traces of red ochre; 17 1/8 x 19 11/16 x 12 13/16 inches; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.

When you first step into Atua: Sacred Gods from Polynesia, you are met by Te Rauparaha, the great Māori chief and leader during New Zealand’s Musket Wars.

The stunning sculpture — Warrior Chief Te Rauparaha, fixed in his canoe — dates to the 1830s, and is in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, the organizer of Atua. The carved figure originally would have been attached to the prow of a large waka, or sailing canoe. possibly Te Rauparaha’s own craft.

According to the exhibition catalogue:

One of the most intriguing things about this canoe figure is his direct stare. He appears to sit there, starting out, riveting those who look back. His smile glints, but for many who look at him the smile isn’t that of a jolly old man, it has a hidden menace to it…

… The wood figure is an image of the Te Rauparaha as a living being, presented in his canoe so that man and image could interact with each other. In a sense each was a mirror for the other, the canoe figure containing or reflecting the mana (spiritual power) of the warrior-statesman before it.