Waka huia

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Waka Huia on display at Okains Bay Museum
A waka huia in Te Papa, Museum of New Zealand

Waka huia and Papa hou are treasure containers made by Māori - the indigenous people of New Zealand. These treasure containers stored a person's most prized personal possessions, such as hei-tiki (pendants), feathers for decorating and dressing the hair such as the tail feathers of the huia (Heteralocha acutirostris), heru (hair comb) and other items of personal adornment. Waka huia and papa hou were imbued with the tapu (taboo) of their owners because the boxes contained personal items that regularly came into contact with the body, particularly the head (the most tapu part of the body).

Waka huia and papa hou were designed to be suspended from the low hanging ceiling of Māori whare (houses) where their beautifully carved and decorated undersides could be appreciated. They were highly prized in themselves and carefully treasured as they passed between generations. As taonga (treasures), waka huia and papa hou were often gifted between hapu (sub-tribes), whanau (families), and individuals to acknowledge relationships, friendships, and other significant social events. It is common to find waka huia and papa hou of one carving style among a tribe who practice a different style.

The rectangular form of papa hou is a northern variation of the more widespread waka huia, which are canoe shaped. The other main difference between the two forms is that papa hou are not carved on the bottom, whereas waka huia are.

The term "waka huia" is also occasionally used figuratively, as in the TVNZ television program Waka Huia covering Māori cultural matters.[1]

The term is also used in New Zealand churches for the pyx, a container housing the reserved sacrament.[2]


  1. ^ http://tvnz.co.nz/waka-huia/695194 "Waka Huia is an archival series. It records and preserves the language and concerns of fluent speakers of the Mäori language. "
  2. ^ [1]

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