Treasure Box (Papahou), Wood, shell, Maori people

Treasure Box (Papahou)

18th century
New Zealand, Bay of Plenty region
Maori people
Wood, shell
H. 3 1/2 x W. 4 1/8 x L. 17 5/8 in. (8.9 x 10.5 x 44.8 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1960
Accession Number:
1978.412.755a, b
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 353
Personal ornaments are important objects in Maori culture. Often worn on the head, the most sacred part of the body, these absorb the supernatural power (mana) of their wearers and are carefully handled when not in use. To contain ornaments and other valuable objects, carvers formerly fashioned treasure boxes that were hung from the rafters of houses to keep their precious and powerful contents out of reach. As the boxes were often seen from below, their undersides were also extensively carved.
Shallow rectangular treasure boxes such as this work were called papahou. The designs here consist primarily of human figures (tiki) that likely represent ancestors. The lid is adorned with a handle formed by three reclining tiki, two of whom are depicted in the act of procreation, perhaps symbolizing the continuity of the mana of the ancestors through their living descendants.
(Sotheby's, New York, 1960); The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1960–1978

Wardwell, Allen. The Sculpture of Polynesia. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1967, no. 113, p. 87.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 28.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 143.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, no. 191, pp. 314–315.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, p. 168.