Skip to main content

Treasure Box (wakahuia)

Cultural Region
New Zealand (Aotearoa)
Artist Culture
early 19th century
Wood, shell, and greenstone
Made in
Australasia, New Zealand, Oceania
Current Location
Not on view
4 9/16 x 4 x 19 15/16 in. (11.6 x 10.2 x 50.6 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Morton D. May
Public Domain
Object Number
This waka huia was originally created as a treasure box to contain the rare and highly prized tail feathers of the now extinct huia bird. The base of the box (right) depicts three figures-a male at each end and a female in the middle. Part of the woman's arm is under the leg of one of the males. Both carved males have had their genitalia removed, presumably by an offended Westerner in the nineteenth or early to mid-twentieth century. The lid (left), which survived intact, features two figures on its outer surface. The male's feet rest against the side of the female's ankles, and his sexual organs take the form of a small tiki figure, an image which represents a Maori ancestor. Between the legs of the female is another tiki head that most likely represents descendants.
1965 - 1975
Morton D. May (1914-1983), St. Louis, MO, USA, purchased at auction of Oceanic Art at Sotheby and Co., London, March 29, 1965, lot no. 96 [1]

1975 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, given by Morton D. May [2]

[1] An invoice dated April 9, 1965 from Sotheby and Co. to the Famous-Barr Co. (Morton D. May) documents the purchase of this object, listed as “Lot 96 A Large Maori Wood Feather-Box (waka-huia) of Long Flattened Form…” [May Archives, Saint Louis Art Museum; Oceanic Art, Sotheby and Co., London, March 29, 1965, lot no. 96].

[2] A letter dated August 14, 1975 from Morton D. May to Mary-Edgar Patton, acting director of the Saint Louis Art Museum, includes the offer of this object as part of a larger donation [SLAM document files]. Minutes of the Acquisitions Committee of the Board of Trustees, Saint Louis Art Museum, November 6, 1975.
Scroll back to top