The Modern World During and After the World Wars, C. 1914–1960

Pacific Art

What is the significance of the meeting house in Pacific cultures?

Meeting or ceremonial houses are a significant part of Pacific architecture, and many Pacific cultures use these larger halls or houses for religious or right-of-passage ceremonies. For example, the Abelam people of the East Sepik Province in New Guinea display art and ritual objects in ceremonial houses in order to attract spirits during rituals. Abelam ceremonial houses are traditionally decorated with art objects made in a variety of materials, including fruit, leaves, stones, and shells. On the island of New Ireland, ceremonial houses are essential for malagan ceremonies and wood sculptures are carved and displayed at the front of the house. In the mid-nineteenth century, master carver Raharuhi Rukupo supervised the construction of Te-Hau-Ki-Turanga, a Maori meeting house in Gisborne, New Zealand. The house, a type known as a wharenui, is covered in detailed, high-relief wood carvings that have been rubbed with shark liver oil and red clay to produce rich color and luminescence. Along the 234 A-frame ceiling, is a repeating pattern of painted wood rafters and lattice panels, which were made by women artisans. Though the nature of the carvings is traditional, they were done with European-style metal tools during a time in the colonial nineteenth century as Maori architecture was changing under the influence of Christianity. Meeting houses across the Pacific serve as important locations for community meetings, rituals, and other ceremonial uses. Their construction is inextricably related to the creation of art objects and to both the political and spiritual function they serve within a culture.


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