Wakahuia (treasure box)


Te Papa

Te Papa
Wellington, New Zealand

The surface area of this waka huia (treasure box) is covered with a series of double spirals connected to each other horizonatally and resembling a wave pattern. The lid and underside of the box are divided by a centre-line which neatly delineates the surface decoration. The spirals are configured with double haehae (parallel grooves) and päkati (dog tooth pattern) notching that articulate the curve of the wave forms flowing along the box. The spirals are joined with whakarare (distorted) patterns over the whole surface area. The terminal ends of the box have protruding heads with outstretched tongues.

Stone toolingThe date of this waka huia indicates that it was probably carved using stone tools. This is further reinforced by the soft appearance of the incised surface area.

Papa hou and waka huiaThe rectangular form of papa hou is a northern variation of the more widespread waka huia, which are canoe shaped. The other main difference between the two forms is that papa hou are not carved on the bottom, whereas waka huia are.

UsageWaka huia were used to contain the treasured personal adornments of both men and women - items such as hei tiki (pendants) and hüia (extinct New Zealand bird: Heteralocha acutirostris) feathers for decorating and dressing the hair. They were hung from the interior rafters of houses.

AcquisitionThis waka huia was repatriated to New Zealand from Britain in 1948 as part of the substantial W O Oldman Collection purchased by the New Zealand Government. A label on the inside of the lid states that it was collected on Captain James Cook's last expedition to New Zealand in 1776. This would make it a rare and significant pre-European artefact from the 'classic' Mäori period (1500-1800).


  • Title: Wakahuia (treasure box)
  • Creator Gender: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1750
  • Location Created: New Zealand
  • Physical Dimensions: w565 x h115 x d75 mm
  • Type: containers
  • Rights: Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992
  • External Link: Te Papa
  • Medium: wood, paua shell, harakeke
  • Carver: Unknown

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