Paikea, ca. 1890s
Unknown carver, Māori, Aotearoa New Zealand
Wood with pigment, 7 1/2 × 16 1/2 in. (19 × 42 cm)
Courtesy the American Museum of Natural History, Division of Anthropology, New York City, 80.0/615
Paikea, also known as the Whale Rider, is an important ancestor of Māori iwi (tribes) in Uawa (Tolaga Bay) on the east coast of the North Island in Aotearoa New Zealand. This tekoteko (carved figure) of Paikea formerly stood on the gable of a meeting house constructed in the nineteenth century, named for Te Kani a Takirau, one of Paikea’s descendants. The haka (chant) composed in 1880 on the occasion of the house’s construction continues to be performed today by his relatives, who regard Paikea as a living being. As shown in the accompanying video, Paikea is sustained beyond material concerns through active genealogical relationships with his descendants, who care for him through songs and stories, touch, and gifts. The whale tooth pendant that he wears was presented to him by a group visiting the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 2013. In order to help facilitate such encounters, preparators and conservators at the museum have adapted storage protocols and created this movable mount on which Paikea now rests.