This carved image of the great Maori warrior Te Rauparaha (1760s – 1849) was sketched by George French Angas in 1844 at Porirua Harbour (northwest coast of the North Island of New Zealand) when the image was still fixed in Te Rauparaha's canoe.
In Angas's sketch (now in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. A-020-008) this carved figure of Te Rauparaha is shown with his back to the transom, facing into the body of the canoe.
Angas drew on the same sheet a light sketch of a small sailing canoe with five occupants, quite possibly the canoe which held the carved figure. This carved figure is the only known image of Te Rauparaha made by a Maori artist and is a major work of art. It casts a presence that extends well beyond its body.Abridged
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008
This image of Te Rauparaha was sketched in his canoe by the visiting English artist George French Angas in 1844, and the pencil drawing was annotated ‘carved image of Te Rauparaha fixed in his canoe’. At the time Angas sketched this figure, Te Rauparaha was already an elder statesman. He was born in the 1760s and lived a very full and vigorous life fighting for his people, the Ngāti Toa, until his death in 1849.
The nature of the relationship between Te Rauparaha the man and Te Rauparaha the canoe figure is intriguing. This figure is an image of Te Rauparaha as a living being, presented in his canoe so that Te Rauparaha the man and his image could contemplate and interact with one another. In a sense each was a mirror of the other, the canoe figure containing or reflecting the mana (spiritual power) of the warrior-statesman standing before it.
The figure was positioned near the front of the canoe, at the back of the breakwater, facing Te Rauparaha and his entourage in the body of the canoe. Angas's drawing includes a small sketch, which indicates that this particular canoe was not a huge war canoe but most likely Te Rauparaha’s personal sailing canoe, around 15 metres long. Crewed by his hand-picked bodyguard of 20 warriors, Te Rauparaha probably used this canoe on state visits as he inspected the territories he had conquered.
Michael Gunn, Senior Curator, Pacific Arts
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014