Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 7, May 1967


(It will be remembered that in Journal 6 [see Journal 6: Images from Journal No.6 - E] our first illustration was a reproduction of the late Mr Mervyn Taylor's "Canoe Builders". Mrs Taylor, who had given us permission to use it, has kindly supplied some very interesting information concerning this outstanding work. Ed).

Born seamen, and probably the greatest navigators of their day, it is not surprising that the Maoris made their canoes vessels of outstanding seaworthiness and exquisite art. Every step of the work, from the selection of the tree to the launching of the finished craft, was accompanied by solemn rites. Large canoes sometimes took years to make.

As the greater part of the workwas done where the tree fell, it was customary to clear the bush and plant vegetable gardens nearby. When the crops were ready and when sufficient other food had been collected, the work could begin.

One method of felling the tree was to mount a huge stone chisel head, two feet long, on the end of a beam of wood. Eight or ten men swung this huge instrument like a battering ram against the tree trunk. After a few strokes, the shattered wood was cleared away with smaller stone adzes. The whole process was repeated time after time until the tree fell. Shaping and hollowing were continued with fire and stone adze, the work being directed by a Tohunga, a man of special skill, until the rough work had all been done.

All this work was done by men of honourable birth. No women or slaves could approach the work. At the launching place, topsides, caulked with down from the raupo reeds were firmly lashed on: gratings of manuka sticks with baling wells at convenient places, were placed for the paddlers to sit on; the tall carved stern piece and the onward-thrusting figure head were fastened on, and then, with stone anchors aboard, eighty paddles ready, mast stepped, sail rigged, and storm awnings rolled, the new canoe was ready to race at ten knots along the coast on an errand of death.


Rangitira the Chieftan contemplates the 'king' falling. From this forest giant now yielding its mighty trunk to the Maori adzmen, a canoe will be skilfully shaped with stone tools and fire.

The scene depicts a New Zealand forest about 600 years ago when the Maori relied on the canoe as his means of transportation and exploration. With the passage of time the forests have receded, the primitive skill is no longer required, but the permanence of (Podocarpus) Totara remains.

This is the caption that was used on the calendar for Henderson & Pollard Ltd. for 1962. It is one of the series of five that Mervyn Taylor did for this firm. (It is taken from a scraper board drawing. Scraper board was used as it resembles a wood cut and a block is made from it for reproduction). He was commissioned to do a calendar every year from 1960 but unfortunately only a series of five was finished at the time of his death. The titles of the other calendars are:-