Colour as a symbol in New Zealand prehistory
Holdaway, Simon John
This thesis explores a new method for looking at the symbolic importance of prehistoric material culture by investigating a non functional attribute. The attribute selected is the colour red and· its relevance to the study of various items of prehistoric Maori material culture is explored. The operational and positional meanings of the symbol are defined through the use of records kept by 18th and 19th century explorers in the Pacific; semantics of Polynesian terms which can in some way be associated with the colour red; and studies which deal with social institutions of traditional Polynesian cultures. The antiquity of the colour symbolism is investigated using a method adopted from historical linguistics. The operational and positional meanings of the symbol are defined for five cultures from East Polynesia: Tahiti, Hawaii, the Marquesas, Easter Island and New Zealand. Common symbolic associations between all five are most likely to be due to a common origin and have been conservatively maintained in each of the cultures. Common associations for the colour red in East Polynesia are shown to include the category tapu and the atua, a concern with genealogy and chiefly status, and often an association with warfare. In prehistoric New Zealand, archaeological support is found for these common associations in the form of burial practices, the colouring of godsticks and burial chests I and the material excavated from Kauri Point Swamp. Using the symbolic associations for the colour previously defined, their relevance to the study of various items of prehistoric material culture from one region is explored. Information on the prehistory of Southern New Zealand is collated and a number of new interpretations put forward. A final element of this thesis considers the conservative nature of the symbolic associations defined. A model is suggested relating this conservatism to other aspects of culture and the situation in Polynesia is contrasted with other areas of Oceania. The thesis concludes by emphasizing the importance of New Zealand's place in East Polynesia when considering aspects of prehistoric symbolism.
Advisor: Leach, Helen
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Anthropology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis