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Raharuhi Rukupo

Rongowhakaata people

Manutuke 1800 – 1873

attributed to

Artist's cultural association:
Ancestor figure (part of a pou-tokomanawa)
[Ancestral image house support (poutokomanawa).] 1820-1842 Rongowhakaata iwi, Manutuke, North Island, New Zealand
figurines, ethnographic objects, wood (totara pine - Podocarpus totara), natural pigments
Technique: wood, natural pigments
79.7 h x 26.5 w x 20.2 d cm
Purchased 1981
Accession No: NGA 81.1084


  • Originally much taller, this housepost now has only the dynamic figurative element from its base. These figures were intended to impress visitors and radiate the prestige of the community. The post would have supported the ridge beam of an exquisitely carved meeting house (whare whakairo). Symbolically, the house represents a primal ancestor, with the poutokomanawa figure holding up its metaphorical backbone. The head is carved in exceptional scale to the body, reflecting the Polynesian belief in the head as the centre of personal power and the spiritual force, known as mana. The body demonstrates a mastery of figurative sculpture with a strongly arched back and flowing arms, atop powerful legs.

    The figure has boldly incised surface design to the shoulders and buttocks, representing tattoo patterns (moko). The realistic face is a form of portraiture, as the tattoo patterns indicate an unnamed warrior chief whose hair is tightly bound in a topknot. Raharuhi Rukupo was a celebrated tohunga whakairo carver-priest of the period and leader of the Gisborne or Turanga school of carving. He was also an accomplished warrior in his youth and in later years was involved in the land wars of 1845–72.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008