Maori Koruru (gable mask)

Maori Koruru (gable mask)

Maori artist

Koruru (gable mask), ca. 1880

East Coast, New Zealand

Totara wood, paint

Peabody Essex Museum, Gift of the Dominion Museum, Wellington, New Zealand, 1956


The Maori believe that those who enter a wharenui (meeting house) are enveloped by tribal ancestors.  The rafters represent the spirits’ ribs; the facades, the arms; and the gable mask—as in this example—at the apex where two gable ends meet, the face of an ancestor.  The facial patterning of this gable mask is closely tied to moko (Maori tattoo): the surface decoration on its brows and upper jaws emphasize facial contours, while the spirals on the neck are typically placed on joints that move.