Weaving Peg (Turuturu)

Maori people

Not on view

Ko te taura whiri, he whiri i te tangata. The woven cord is like the cord that connects people. - Māori proverb

This weaving peg incorporates a distinctively carved male figure with elaborate designs that accentuate his tattooed skin (moko). Carved in the round, intricate low-relief carvings cover the entire surface of the figure’s body except for the back of his head, which is the seat of an individual’s mana or personal sanctity. With elbows resting on each knee, the arms extend up towards the chin, which is supported by five-fingered hands. The face is dynamic – serial notching accentuates the pronounced arch of each brow, giving way to more fluid grooves, lengthened lines that delineate elongated eyes and the contours of the lips and mouth. The nostrils flare, the mouth is wide open and gaping, as if to consume this flow of energy. Spiral designs on each knee spill over onto the top section of the polished shaft and create a characteristic double spiral motif. This feature frames the face of a further face which faces the other direction, drawing the eye around to the back, creating an energy and dynamism much admired in Māori figural sculpture.

Weaving pegs (turuturu) were driven into the ground in pairs for the suspension of prepared flax fibers for weaving. The terminal and pointed tip of this example attest to this practical function, yet their overall composition emphasizes a formal similarity to important deity figures known as tiki wananga and hint at the cosmological associations of this genre of carving. The entire process of weaving was carried out by women and was governed by strict ritual protocols. Novice weavers were prepared for entry into the whare pora (house of learning) where they focused on receiving the knowledge of the arts of weaving through a series of karakia (prayers) and initiation ceremonies. These endowed each student with a receptive mind and attuned her to the requirements necessary to gain a complete knowledge of both the practical and spiritual concepts associated with the woven arts. Most Māori garments, including cloaks, were made using a twining technique known as whatu, in which single or double pairs of wefts were wrapped around each warp thread individually by hand. The practical preparation of fibers for weaving was a lengthy process. Fibers from the leaves of the flax plant (Phormium tenax) were extracted by skillful cutting and scraping with a shell, and then washed. Prepared fibers were gathered into rolls and pounded with a stone beater to soften them. The process of twining began when the weaver drove two pegs into the ground and stretched between them a single cord from which the strands of flax were hung. The left-hand peg was always left plain, while the right-hand one was carved and dedicated to the female deity associated with the moon, Hine-te-iwaiwa. The more complex form of carved weaving pegs, such as this one, were designed to incorporate the spiritual potency associated with the goddess whose efficacy was believed to become integrated into the bound texture of the cloak, thus enhancing the spiritual armature of the wearer.

The term turuturu reinforces these powerful cosmological associations. Derived from the terms ‘tu’--meaning to stand upright and erect in a vertical posture; and ‘ru’ – meaning to split, to shake or quiver. Whilst ‘tu’ referred to the act of thrusting upwards, ‘ru’ referred instead to a seismic renting of the earth (whenua), in this instance by the penetrative force enacted by the peg as it was driven down into the earth. Both terms combined in a single phrase – turuturu –referred therefore to an intensified duality that operated forcefully in two contrasting directions. For the act of driving the wooden peg into the soil rent the earth below as much as it pierced the air directly above it. This ritual, accompanied by the steady rhythm of chanting, was enacted at night by an officiating male expert known as a tohunga. His actions were complemented and balanced by the female weaver who in subsequent months would bring her own power to bear for the task at hand. Sitting directly on the ground, a weaver connected physically with Papatuanuku (the divine force associated with the land), pooling her creative energies and innate female potency (ira wahine) in a concentrated effort towards completion of the sacred task ahead of her.

Within the context of te ao Maori, a Maori worldview, this single carved wooden peg captures the entirety of the universe. Conceptually, it is far from merely functional but rather embodies a wealth of associations that allude to the complex interconnected fabric of the world. The wood of the carving emulates the uprightness of the tree from which it was hewn, thrusting upwards into the dark night skies where it mingles with the close concentration of stars overhead. The elaborately carved turuturu tapu, in tandem with its uncarved partner, therefore forms a vertical and horizontal bridge that links the two worlds of land and sky via a single sacred thread of fiber, woven and bound over time into a foundation (kaupapa) that speaks strongly to a network of ancestral relations and genealogical relationships. The act of weaving was emboldened by this integration of cosmological principles into its material frame. It was a strategy intended to heighten the efficacy and potency of textiles which were conceived as a means to mirror the very fabric of the universe itself and our own integral, and interconnected, relationship with it.

Maia Nuku, 2016
Evelyn A. J. Hall and John A. Friede Associate Curator for Oceanic Art

Published references
Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, May 10 – August 17, 1969, cat. no. 30

Newton, Douglas. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection: Masterpieces of Primitive Art. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 128

Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones and Kate Ezra. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Pacific Islands, Africa and the Americas. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987. p. 53, no. 38

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 311 ̶ 12, no. 189

Further reading
Best, Elsdon. “The Art of the Whare Pora.” Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, 31 (1898): pp. 625–58

Pelrine, Diane. Affinities of Form: Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas from the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1996. p. 100, no. 40

Pendergrast, Mick. “The Fiber Arts,” in D. Starzecka, Maori Art and Culture. London: British Museum Press, 1996. pp. 114–46

Weaving Peg (Turuturu), Wood, Maori people

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