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Maoris and their art in San Francisco, New Zealand.

Sacred art treasures of New Zealand's Maori people go on display this month in San Francisco. It's the show's only West Coast stop and the first time such works have left their homeland--the Maori venerate these objects and have never before let them travel. As well as describing highlights of the show, on page 44 we list three spots in New Zealand where visitors can learn about Maori culture and art.

In San Francisco:

174 prized works of art

Called "Te Maori: Maori Art from New Zealand Collections," the show runs from July 10 through December 1 at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. You'll see 174 items--including jewelry, musical instruments, and tools representing more than 30 tribes.

Most items are decorated with carving, a sacred art to all Polynesian peoples but brought to remarkable heights by the Maori. There are items of greenstone (nephrite jade or bowenite), shell, ivory, and soft totara wood. Most striking are the burial chests, gateposts, a war canoe prow, and meeting house posts.

The show reflects the early Maoris' war-like nature, the importance of ocean fishing, and their community-oriented society--strictly ruled by myth, tradition, and concepts of religious restrictions (tapu) and prestige or power (mana).

On the carved objects, humans are the commonest motif. Note the disproportionately large heads and three-fingered hands (distortion was deliberate, according to one authority, to avoid carving the exact human likeness). Some figures have stuck-out tongues and bulding eyes; they're warriors, meant to serve as guardians. You'll also see carved whales, lizards, and mermaids.

On July 10, a lecture on Maori art starts at 7 P.M., followed by music and dance at 8. On July 13, there'll be a carving demonstration at noon, a lecture at 2, and music and dance at 12:30 and 3.

This show was organized by the New Zealand government, the Maori people, the lending museums, and the American Federation of Arts. The museum, on the north side of Golden Gate Parkhs Music Concourse, is open 10 to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays; admission is $3, $1.50 for ages 5 to 17 and over 65.

If you're going to New Zealand

Because the 385,000 Maoris number about 12 percent of New Zealand's population, their art and culture are important to the country as a whole. Most Maoris live on North Island, where you'll find many of their small communities, each with its decorated meeting house. Some are open to the public during regular hours; as a matter of courtesy, leave the nonpublic ones to the Maori.

Three North Island sites offer a concentration of Maori art and culture and are worth working into your schedule:

Bay of Islands. This area has always been a stronghold of Maori culture even when wars, poverty, and disease (much brought by the white man) had decimated them. Near Paihia, you'll find the Waitangi National Reserve with its parkland, visitor center, and Treaty House (all open 9 to 5 daily; admission is about 90 cents U.S.).

The Treaty House is a vital part of New Zealand history: here in 1840 peace was proclaimed between Maori and the British. You can tour the Georgian-style house, a museum, and a big meeting house carved in the styles of several tribes. The world's largest war canoe, pictured above, is here.

Auckland. The Auckland War Memorial museum displays more than 2,000 Maori artifacts and artworks, from greenstone adzes to an 80-foot war canoe and a meeting house. Around the Maori Court, look for the great Kaitaia carving, a 6-foot-wide elegantly carved lintel considered too sacred to travel with the exhibition.

The museum, in the Auckland Domain parkland southeast of downtown, is open 10 to 5 (from 11 Sundays); admission is $2.

Rotorua. Whakarewarewa Maori Village and the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, described in every tour book, are worth the stop. Here you'll see a complete Maori village with intricately carved meeting house and storehouses. Walk around the palisade to see the elaborate gateposts and fierce guardian figures.

Most importantly, the institute has a school where some 22 apprentice carvers spend up to two years honing their skills and several weavers at a time work with the native flax. You can watch them at work daily from about 9 to 5. Admission is $2.
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Date:Jul 1, 1985
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