Maori Carving – ‘How to’ On Pigs Tusks

Maori Bone Carving and the Pigs Tusk

Maori carving is done on various animal bone these days. This article is on carving done on pigs tusks. Maori carving on pigs tusks looks very tribal, yet it was not a maori tradition to carve pigs tusks. Maori did wear pigs tusks but they were not carved for there was no purpose for carving them compared to carving a fish hook. A fish hook or hei matau was carved sharply for catching fish before European steel materials were brought into Aotearoa (New Zealand). Bones used today for Maori carving are beef bone, whale bone if resources allow, dear antler, pigs’ tusks and more.

People throughout the world are now learning the art of Maori carving and its designs on bone. China has marketed resin carved items such as the Maori tiki and various other carving forms to imitate Maori bone carvings. Maori designs and the historical traditional designs are a treasure to Maori and preserving the traditional art forms should be respected. However contemporary Maori carving is encouraged but whilst still respecting the knowledge and understanding of traditional values when it comes to whakairo.

Carving traditional Maori designs and using these designs on bone is acceptable in a contemporary fashion but more so respected if the elements of the tradition, legends, spirituality of Maori are apparent through the carvings. This shows that the carver has an understanding of the values which Maori held and still hold today towards their culture, history, where Maori came from, where they are today, and where they are going to.

Since the pigs tusk would be considered a contemporary substitute from traditional bone used, Maori designs on a pigs tusk can include many various Maori patterns depending on the size and the tools used to carve the bone tusk. Traditional designs of Maori could be incorporated very effectively together from the tip to the root of the tusk. Paua can also be inset in the design.

Preparing the Pigs Tusk

A pigs jaw is skinned with a sharp knife and then cut sawn which keeps the jaw intact. For a carver, the pigs jaw is left in the sun outside for insects and ants to eat and cleanly remove all remaining flesh and marrow through the tusks. It is best to allow the jaw to erode around the tusks so the tusks can be loosened from the jaw without breaking or sawing the tusks, this way the tusks are left intact which will allow removal of the whole tusk embedded up to halfway into the jaw.

After removing the tusk the tusk is then boiled with salt to extract any oils and to basically clean the bone ready for carving. The tusk can be boiled up to three times to help whiten the bone.

Pencil sketch on the bone your Maori design or pattern and then use a dremel to carve into the tusk. There are many different attachments to use for detailed designs and shaving can be done with a file. Polishing afterwards can be done with a dremel buffer or even a shoe brush depending on how much of a natural shine you want on the bone.

Bleaching a bone with bleach and water may have your bone look more like plastic.

In Maori tradition, a bone turned yellow due to the wearers skin oils seeping into the bone over time which signified the wearers being or spirit merging with the spirit or meaning of the bone. When the bone was passed down to descendents then the next wearer would add their spirit, mana to the bone and so forth, which could give the pendant more symbolic meaning and becoming a treasure to the whanau (family).

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