The Beasley Maori Bird Perch, pae manu or pae koko
This extraordinary and enigmatic bird perch is amongst the rarest of all Maori taonga, or treasures. The perch belonged for many years to Harry Beasley, the great English collector of Pacific art, who evidently found it as puzzling as it was impressive; he described it as an example 'of the highest workmanship of the Maori' (Man p. 65). In a 1924 issue of the journal Man (Vol. 24, May, 1924, pp. 65-6) Beasley sought both to 'preserve what little there is known' and to solicit more information on this rare class of object. That little information was forthcoming is evident, as the enquiry was repeated some five years later in the 'Notes and Queries' section of the Journal of the Polynesian Society (Vol. 38, No. 4, December, 1929; p. 292).
Birds, chiefly the kereru (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), a pigeon, kaka (Nestor meridionalis), a parrot, and the tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), also known as koko, were greatly valued by Maori as sources of food, bones, and prestigious and decorative feathers. The kaka and tui were also highly prized as affectionate pets, which could be taught to repeat phrases and to welcome visitors. It was customary to name these tame birds, sometimes after an ancestor.
The methods by which Maori captured birds were varied, and have been discussed at length in the literature, notably in Elsdon Best's Forest Lore of the Maori (1948). The most familiar form of snare or perch was the mutu kaka, which is well represented in collections (see The Maori Collections of the British Museum, pl. 147, for an example from the Beasley Collection, inv. no. Oc1944,02.811). In contrast, the offered bird perch is an extraordinarily rare object, being one of only six or seven of its type recorded. Beasley (1924) discusses this perch and two others, in the Otago Museum, Dunedin and the Auckland Museum (Barrow dates the latter to the 18th century; An Illustrated Guide to Maori Art, p. 74). Two further examples, formerly in the Oldman collection, are now in New Zealand, together with a third, which has a bowl only at one end. One other example in the corpus depicts similar figures at either end. That perch, now in the the Musée du Cinquantenaire, Brussels, arrived in Europe in the 1850s, but is not as old or as sculpturally successful as the perch offered here.
Unlike some other enigmatic Maori prestige objects (the so-called latrine handles for instance - which have also been identified as bird perches, the description 'bird-perch' is unanimously accepted. The identification of the Beasley perch and its function as such was confirmed by H. D. Skinner, in part on the basis of the history of the related example in the Otago Museum, Dunedin, which had belonged to Tutohoto, a Maori tohunga, or priest 'who was connected with the Ngatitawhaki [...] a people famous for their skill in bird-hunting.' (Man, p. 65). The existence of these objects is also earlier noted by Hamilton, who records that 'carved perches (paekoko), with receptacles at each end for food, were sometimes elaborately decorated.' (Hamilton, 1898 p. 218). Unfortunately he provides no further information on these objects, and details of how they were used are limited and speculative.
Beasley suggests that the bird perches were 'used for hanging up about the houses' (Man, p. 66), whilst also noting that none 'show any beak marks, such as one would expect to find where a Kaka or Tui bird had been fastened' (1924, p. 65). The objection is, however, dealt with by Hamilton, who states that 'to prevent the tame birds destroying their perches [...] their bills were blunted by being burnt.' (ibid., 218). Descriptions of the 'cages' in which tame kaka and tui were kept do not mention the use of pae koko in a context such as Beasley suggests, and it is also possible that they were used in the capture of birds, perhaps alongside mutu kaka snares. Maori used tame birds, known as mokai, as decoys to help attract wild kaka and, less frequently, tui. Best records how a decoy bird would be tethered to a perch by a bone or nephrite leg ring, or kaka poria (a prestige object in itself), and incited by the fowler to cry out. Wild kaka, which are naturally curious and sociable, would be attracted by the cries, and could then be caught when they alighted on the mutu kaka snares, which were baited with berries. The same principle was used in the capture of tui. This theory would in part account for the rarity of the pae manu or pae koko bird perch in comparison with mutu kaka, since only one tame bird was needed to attract the wild kaka or tui, but several snares were needed to catch them (see T. W. Downes' Bird-Snaring, Etc., in the Whanganui River District, 1928, p. 21, fig. 18, for an illustration of the method in which mutu kaka were used; the use of a bird perch also seems plausible in this context).
Whilst its exact use may forever remain a mystery, the sculptural quality of the Beasley bird perch is beyond question. It is executed in the manner characteristic of great Maori carving of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, in which elaborate surface decoration remains subordinate in importance to sculptural form. This is evident in the exceptionally fine modelling of the wheku figures at either end, with their large mask-like faces, arms holding the body, and tensed legs raised to the chin; the manner in which the arms and legs were executed particularly impressed Beasley (Man, p. 66). Interestingly it seems this style of wheku figure is otherwise found only on whip-slings, kotaha, from the east coast of the North Island (cf. Mead, Te Maori, 1984 p. 215, no. 123). Neich has attributed these kotaha more specifically to Poverty Bay (Maori Collections, 2010, p. 75). The stylistic similarities, as well as the association of bird-snaring with the area, support a similar geographic attribution for the Beasley bird perch.
A Retro Racing Watch for the Modern Man
First Look: A Nearly Impossible Collection of the Most Legendary Wines
10 Dazzling Jewels from the Bourbon Parma Family Collection
First Look: Relive the 1990s Through the Collection of Damien Hirst’s Legendary Manager
Market-leading Contemporary Art Sales in Asia
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
L'inscription pour l'enchère en ligne est fermé pour cette vente . Voulez-vous regarder la vente en direct?Visionner La Vente En Temps Réel