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Object: Papahou (treasure box)

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Title Papahou (treasure box)
Production Unknown (carver), 1800-1850, Northland
Medium summary wood, muka
Materials wood
Classification containers
Technique woodcarving
Dimensions Overall: x 440mm (Length)
Credit line Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992
Registration number OL000002/.S

Waka huia and papa hou are treasure containers for storing a person's most prized personal possessions, such as hei tiki (pendants), feathers for decorating and dressing the hair, and other items of personal adornment. Waka huia and papa hou were imbued with the tapu (taboo) of their owners because they contained personal items that regularly came into contact with the body, particularly the head (the most tapu part of the body).

A Northland and Taranaki form
The rectangular form of papa hou is a northern variation of the more widespread waka huia. Another form of papa hou is also found in Taranaki. Some northern Taranaki tribes have historical genealogical associations with Northland tribes, and this may explain why papa hou were also created in the Taranaki region.

Te Tai Tokerau style
This papa hou is carved in the Te Tai Tokerau style of the northern tribes. The body is elaborately carved in high relief, culminating in two manaia (beaked figures) that serve as handles at each end. The lid is undecorated except for a centre ridge that terminates at each end in a whale fluke pattern. The papa hou was collected by Major-General Robley (68th Durham Light Infantry Regiment), probably in the Bay of Plenty district.

Highly prized taonga
Waka huia and papa hou were designed to be suspended from the low hanging ceiling of Mäori whare (houses) where their beautifully carved and decorated undersides could be appreciated. They were highly prized in themselves and carefully treasured as they passed between generations. As taonga (treasures), waka huia and papa hou were often gifted between hapü (sub-tribes), whanau (families), and individuals to acknowledge relationships, friendships, and other significant social events. It is therefore common to find waka huia and papa hou of one carving style among a tribe who practise a different style.

Related information

Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.