Image Traditional Mäori cooking, 1923

TLF ID R2488

This is a black-and-white photograph showing the taikowhatu (oven stones) of a hangi or umu (Mäori earth oven) in an earthen pit about 1.2 metres wide and 50 centimetres deep. The taikowhatu have been spread over burning pieces of wood, large and small. In the background the legs of a man and some fencing can be seen. New Zealand photographer James McDonald (1865-1935) took this photograph in 1923. The negative measures 11.5 cm x 16.5 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset illustrates a Mäori method of cooking food that is still popular today - once the oven stones are hot, traditionally a layer of green flax is laid on them, and then layers of meat and vegetables are placed between more layers of flax; a mat covers the oven, and water is poured on the hot stones, which in turn steams the food; slow cooking for hours makes the food extremely tender, while the wood and the flax infuse the food with a delicate and smoky flavour.
  • It depicts a traditional Mäori cultural practice - because food destroyed the tapu (spirit), cooking was done well away from the houses of chiefs, and all food was eaten outside in the open air.
  • It provides an example of a Mäori tradition - this labour-intensive method of cooking involves much planning, and the timing is a matter of skill and experience.
  • It is an example of the work of James McDonald, a photographer well known for his black-and-white images of Mäori - he toured New Zealand extensively on ethnographic expeditions (ethnography is the branch of anthropology that deals with the scientific description of specific human cultures) from 1919 to 1923 while employed by the Dominion Museum (now the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa).

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Author
  • Date of contribution: 1923
  • Name: James McDonald
  • Remarks: photographer
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 29 Aug 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning resource type
  • Image
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
  • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
  • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
Operating systems
  • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements