A Māori Chieftainess

A Māori Chieftainess (Harata Rewiri Tarapata, 1831-1913), 1906
Charles Frederick Goldie (1870-1947)
Oil on canvas
BORGM 00899
Image © Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

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A Māori Chieftainess (Harata Rewiri Tarapata, 1831-1913)

Goldie called his portraits of Māori sitters ‘Ethnographs’, and he concentrated on high status individuals, like this painting of Harata Rewiri Tarapata of the Ngāpuhi people. She was the descendant of two noted chiefs, both early signatories of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.

She is shown wearing various items that indicate her rank. The pounamu (greenstone) hei-tiki (pendant in human form) is considered a taonga (treasure) by Māori. She is also wearing a mako (shark’s tooth) earring which is fixed with red sealing wax. The Māori associate sharks with strength and ferocity.

Harata Rewiri Tarapata’s tattoos around her mouth and chin indicate her importance. In Māori culture, tattoos were limited to people of high social standing.  The majority of Goldie’s subjects were elderly Māori of considerable standing in their society. Goldie was concerned that the Māori, the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand, were facing change and wanted to record them. Goldie’s portraits attracted controversy and criticism in his lifetime, but today his work is celebrated in New Zealand, and Māori chiefs credit Goldie’s works as taonga representing irreplaceable ancestral images of koroua and kuia (elderly men and women) which, for Māori, have special significance.

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