Oceania - New Zealand

When a member of the Maori tribe of New Zealand becomes an adult, he or she receives a unique set of tattoos, called moko. These designs are carved into the skin and filled with a sooty material. Those who endured this process earn social prestige and respect. Each design is unique, and moko are used as forms of identification, similar to our social security numbers.

The tattoos on this figure represent one of the owner's ancestors. The Maori revere their ancestors as powerful beings who protect and guide them, so depictions of them are common in Maori art. They believe figures like this hold the spirit of their ancestors, who watch over those entering the meetinghouse in which they were once displayed. The figure once had an outthrust tongue, which symbolizes defiance and strength. He also holds a short club, symbolizing his status as a great warrior who is always ready to protect his tribe. These attributes, as well as the pattern on the figure's right shoulder and the fact that it is depicted with only three fingers, are common motifs in Maori art.

Gable Peak Figure (Tekoteko)
about 1780
Unidentified Maker (Maori),
New Zealand

Wood and haliotis shell
48 1/2 inches H; 7 1/2 inches W; 6 inches D
Gift of David T. Owsley

World Events

1789-97 George Washington's presidency.

1803 Louisiana Purchase made by Thomas Jefferson.

1850 Gold Rush in Australia.

1947-1950 Jackson Pollock's "drip period".

1980 Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back premieres in movie theaters.


The term "Oceania" refers to an area that stretches from Hawaii to Australia and the Southeast Asian islands. It includes fifteen countries and twenty-five languages.


dido logo
Explore Ball State University Museum of Art online