What is Kowhaiwhai?
Kowhaiwhai are beautiful painted design patterns. At first, kowhaiwhai patterns can be viewed as decoration only, but closer examination shows that they involve sophisticated mathematical precision. These patterns include symmetry, rotation, reflection and translation.
The koru or pitau is the most basic design element of kowhaiwhai. These are curving stalks with bulbs at one end. They bear a striking resemblance to the young shoot of a native fern.
After the koru or pitau, the next main motif or pattern of kowhaiwhai is the crescent or kape. This is characterised by a line of evenly placed white circles on the outer edge of the crescent.
The koru or pitau and the kape, are all that make up the list of basic kowhaiwhai motifs. However when used in various combinations these two patterns can create many varying designs of incredible depth.
1. Why does it say that kowhaiwhai are more than just decoration?
Closer examination shows that they involve sophisticated mathematical precision.
2. Describe the two main patterns of kowhaiwhai?
The two main patterns are the kapae and the crescent.
Stories that explain the origin of kowhaiwhai all say that it is an art form secondary in importance to wood carving (whakairo) and tattooing (ta moko). When kowhaiwhai is compared to wood-carving and tattooing, there are several contrasts. Apart from the obvious differences of how they are created, kowhaiwhai is seen as something more temporary. It is not seen as having lasting value, so requires no special ritual and no formal training. It is considered to be a common (noa) activity and so therefore, can be carried out by anyone.
The colours red, black and white are often the only colours that appear in kowhaiwhai patterns. Red was obtained by mixing red ochre with shark-liver oil. Black paint was made by mixing shark oil with powdered charcoal. For white paint, taioma or pipeclay was burned then pulverised and mixed with oil.
3. Why is kowhaiwhai seen as less important than whakairo and ta moko?
Kowhaiwhai is very common. It requires no special ritual or formal training because it is not as important than Whakairo and Ta Moko
4. Do you think whakairo and ta moko was carried out by anyone?
No because they need formal training to make or do the whakairo and ta moko
One oral account from Ngati Kahungunu, traces the origin of both wood-carving and kowhaiwhai. It tells us that:
When Whiro, Haepuru and Haematua climbed up to the second heaven to obtain carvings for their house, they were told by one of the gods that the art of decorating houses with wood carvings had already been taken away by their younger brothers. Whiro and his two friends complained to the god that they could not go begging to their younger brothers for the art, so the god showed them how to embellish a house with painted designs.
Whiro and the others then descended and adorned their own house with painted designs.( Best (1982:287-8…)
5. Why couldn't Whiro, Haepuru and Haemata get carvings for their house?
Their younger brothers had already carried it out.
Look at these words in the article and see if you can work out their meaning from the context. Then look up and write down the definition from the dictionary
Sophisticated : Having revealing or involving a great deal or worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture.
Precision: The quality, condition, or fact of being exact and accurate.
Resemblance : The state of resembling or being alike.
Motif : A decorative image or design, especially a repeated one forming a pattern
Secondary : Coming after, less important than or resulting from someone or something else that is primary.
Temporary : Lasting for only a limited period of time not permanent.
Pulverised : Reduced to fine particles.
Obtained : Gain something
Embellished : Make something more attractive by the addition of decorative details or features.
Adorn : Make better/ attractive.