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date: 20 September 2019

Maori–European interactions in artlocked

  • Roger Blackley

Extract

The Stone Age in New Zealand ended abruptly in 1769, when Captain James Cook’s Endeavour introduced iron artefacts to the culture of the indigenous Maori. Lucky individuals traded for tomahawks and nails; others less fortunate experienced being shot by devices that totally transcended the familiar wooden and stone weapons. These latter artefacts in turn proved desirable ‘curiosities’ for the European visitors, so that Cook-provenanced artefacts came to represent an ethnographic line drawn between an idealized ‘before’ and ‘after’ European contact—despite such ‘contact’ spanning decades, if not an entire century. Several preserved human heads were obtained on the voyages, inaugurating a macabre collecting craze for tattooed heads that reached its height in the 1820s before being outlawed in 1831. The work of artists such as Sydney Parkinson on Cook’s first voyage (e.g. A War Canoe of New Zealand, c. April 1770), William Hodges on the second, and John Webber on the third, together with other voyaging artists of the pre-colonial period, have been co-opted as the origins of a Pakeha (European settler) art history. The work of these travelling artists, especially portraits and documentation of ...

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