Ancient carving journeys home to Kaitaia

By Yvonne Tahana

Tangonge in the basement of the Auckland Museum. The piece is to be exhibited at the Te Ahu Heritage Centre in Kaitaia. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Tangonge in the basement of the Auckland Museum. The piece is to be exhibited at the Te Ahu Heritage Centre in Kaitaia. Photo / Sarah Ivey

One of New Zealand's oldest carvings, Tangonge, is being loaned to Kaitaia's new Te Ahu Heritage Centre for a year from the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The piece is also known as the Kaitaia Lintel and was discovered in 1920 when Lake Tangonge was drained.

Made of totara it is dated to between the 14th and 16th centuries putting it close to the arrival of Maori.

It's a glamour piece in the museum's collection - something people make a point of coming to visit, curator Chanel Clarke said. Stylistically because it was made perhaps only generations from those who travelled to New Zealand by waka, it speaks of the connection to Polynesia and doesn't have the intricacies of later Maori carving. But its simplicity made it elegant, Ms Clarke said.

It is mysterious in other ways. The figures at the end at the terminating ends of the 2.32m long by 39cm high piece are thought to be manaia, sea figures, but there is debate about what the creatures are; some suggest they're dogs.

Close inspection shows subtleties. Different views of a human-like figure with upraised arms at the centre front give away small secrets. From a front view it appears to be gripping the carving, but from the top the hands are pointed in different directions - no one knows what that means.

It was once thought Tangonge was a lintel or pare which may have hung over a doorway, but the museum now believes because it is carved on both sides it could have been placed over a gate.

- NZ Herald

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