The Maoris of New Zealand appear to have integrated into Western life. However, there is an indomitable spirit in them, a sense of identity, a relation to the world and to their ancestors that makes their way of life essentially Maori. And in their cosmogony the original ancestors are, precisely, the gods.
In every house I found images of the ancestors. Soberly framed, as pictures on the wall or in photo frames, often costly. The Victorian heritage found a fertile soil after the British arrival, because from their origins Maoris have represented their ancestors, as wooden carvings, paintings, engravings, photos or any other media.
One of the most important literary arts of Maori culture is the whakapapa, where they recite the genealogies. The whakapapa provides a time scale which unifies all the myths, traditions and histories of the Maoris, from the remote past up to the present. Moreover, facial tattoos also represent family trees, containing in their symbols the origin, clan and occupation of the person bearing them. Genealogy connects each person with his relatives, his community, his ancestors, his gods. And these gods are nature gods; each person is genealogically related to the landscape and to natural phenomena.
I have attempted to highlight the cult of the original gods through the cult of the ancestors. The exhibition embraces the inner world of the gods as people, and the outer world of the gods beyond the human, the two related through genealogy. The gods are presented in both forms, human descendants and manifestations in nature, their connection being suggested here also by the use of the frames.
The central motif of the exhibition is an interpretation of the genealogical tree of Tane Mahuta, god of forests, as a tribute to the important part he played, according to Maori mythology, in the origin of humanity. The Whakapapa and facial tattoo are also referred to in the image. *
For the Maoris time is not linear but cyclical. Tane’s tree is composed of portraits of people of today – the ancestors of the future – but commemorates the gods – the first ancestors – thus closing a circle in cyclical time.
* This is a very personal interpretation based on my encounters with the Maori communities of Kuku and Parihaka and on information I found in books, which shows great variations from region to region. It has no claim to be more than a personal vision based on the Maori culture in general and these communities in particular, and a tribute to them.