Tauihu (canoe prow)

Unknown (carver)1750-1850

Te Papa

Te Papa
Wellington, New Zealand

This beautifully carved tauihu is the prow of a waka taua (war canoe). It is a fine example of the pītau style of tauihu, recognisable by the carved figure at the front, with its protruding and defiant tongue, and arms stretched out behind with clearly realised hands and fingers. The figure represents Tūmatauenga (the god of war), who is tasked with warning his brother Tangaroa (the god of the sea) that humans are crossing Tangaroa's domain in a war canoe. It is a very early example of tauihu construction and carving.

Waka taua
Waka taua were truly impressive vessels. They could be up to 45 metres long and were the exceptional battleships of their day. They were expressively ornamented, with a well-defined and smooth-running hierachy among the kaihautū (leader) and the kaihoe (paddlers). They were also tribal statements of power, prestige, and war prowess.


  • Title: Tauihu (canoe prow)
  • Creator: Unknown (carver)
  • Date Created: 1750-1850
  • Location: New Zealand
  • Physical Dimensions: Overall: 195mm (width), 420mm (length), 200mm (depth), 1289.4g (weight)
  • Provenance: Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992
  • Rights: All Rights Reserved
  • External Link: Te Papa Collections Online
  • Medium: Wood, paua shell
  • Support: wood
  • Registration ID: OL000050/1

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