Tohunga under Tapu

Tohunga under Tapu was the first of the large scene paintings Lindauer completed for Partridge. It shows a tohunga ahurewa under a state of tapu. Lindauer made an earlier and smaller tohunga scene painting in 1898, which he titled 'The Tohunga'; it is now known as Te Ao-katoa and is in the collection of the Whanganui Regional Museum. It depicts Tainui Waikato tohunga Te Aokatoa being fed cooked taewa (potato) on a stalk by a woman who also appears in the painting Fire Making.

Within customary Māori society the states of tapu (sacred, with restriction) and noa (common, without restriction) were complementary and of equal importance: one did not exist without the other. The observance of tapu and noa was instructive in Māori society, making tohunga important figures; they were a small, elite group who were revered and feared and who lived apart from the community. In Tohunga under Tapu the tohunga is kneeling on a whāriki (woven mat) with his hands behind his back and is being tentatively fed cooked potato by a young girl using a bracken stalk. They are positioned in front of a small wharepuni with a carved koruru at the gable apex. Behind them is the pā tūwatawata: the fortification is defined by the thick palisade posts. Beyond this a mountain range provides even greater depth and dimension to the image.

Nigel Borell

(originally published in Gottfried Lindauer's New Zealand: The Māori Portraits, edited by Ngahiraka Mason and Zara Stanhope, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and AUP, 2016.)

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