Wooden Treasure Box Presented To President Calvin Coolidge By Arawa Chiefs

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
Washington, DC, United States

From Card: "Wooden container (waka), cut from the solid, with inset cover. Elongated oval shape, cover forming upper half of composition. Decorated with over-all carving in relief of scrolled figures, beaked heads in series, two stylized human faces centerd on either side a squatting human figure at each end serving as supports, and with inlay of Haliotis [paua] shell. Shell inlay serves as eyes for the lateral human, and terminal beaked heads at ends of container. Interior excavated with hand tools including a file. Note: The Arawa is a federation of the tribes extending from Lake Rotorua to Maketu on the east coast, North Island, N. Z., and claiming descent from members of the crew of the Arawa, the legendary voyaging canoe that brought the Maori to New Zealand."

This box is listed in the United States National Museum Annual Report for the year 1956, p. 99, in the list of donors to the National Collections, under entry on U.S. Department of State; the entry identifies this box as "box (waka) of carved wood, decoratively embellished, which was presented in 1925 to President Calvin Coolidge by the chiefs of the Arawa in a ceremony at Rotorua, New Zealand."

The Chiefs of the Arawas of New Zealand presented this carved box to the president through a naval officer who visited Rotorua, New Zealand on the U.S.S. Seattle in August 1925. See accession file for additional information.

Treasure or feather box (wakahuia). There are similar objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum collections (see PRM 2000.21.1 for example), and the Pitt Rivers Museum (http://objects.prm.ox.ac.uk/pages/PRMUID119281.html) notes about boxes designed to stand on a flat surface: "Originally these boxes were designed to be hung from the rafters rather than sit on a flat surface, indicating either a change in use or that this particular example may have been made for the tourist trade, as these were popular souvenirs with European visitors to New Zealand. ... vessels like this were designed to contain treasured personal possessions including the feathers of the now extinct huia bird. In Maori this style of oval-shaped feather box is called a wakahuia, literally translating as waka (vessel) and huia (prized)."


  • Title: Wooden Treasure Box Presented To President Calvin Coolidge By Arawa Chiefs
  • Location: North Island / Rotorua District, New Zealand, Polynesia
  • Physical Dimensions: L: 59.7cm W: 12.7cm D: 26.7cm
  • Type: Box
  • Rights: This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws. http://www.si.edu/termsofuse
  • External Link: View this object record in the Smithsonian Institution Collections Search Center
  • USNM Catalog Number(s): E393463
  • Photo Credit: Donald E. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History
  • Field: Ethnology
  • Date Collected: 1925
  • Accession Date: 1956-02-06

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