A78_044.jpg Mandibles, Kurī. Collection of Puke Ariki (A78.044).

They may never have been judged Best in Show but no one could argue that kurī (Polynesian dogs) did not earn their keep. This assembled model of a kurī skull in the Puke Ariki Heritage Collection appears to be from two different specimens, as the jaw does not fit the skull exactly. Despite this, it still provides an interesting illustration of the species which were an important part of Māori life. Weighing on average between 13 and 15 kilograms, kurī were a similar size to a modern border collie but featured pricked ears, a heavy shoulders and powerful jaws. Explorer and naturalist William Colenso unflatteringly labelled them as “dull, stupid, and ugly… with lank long hair and a bushy tail … and … no proper bark” but kurī proved hugely useful with parts of them used in clothing and adornment. They were also used for food. In a breed of mixed colours, the white haired canines were especially prized according to Colenso. “Such were indeed objects of envy, and were fitting presents for a king! These dogs were taken the greatest possible care of; they slept in the house on clean mats so that their precious tales should be kept as white as possible.”  With the arrival of a plethora of other dog breeds brought by Europeans and the growing availability of other livestock for food kurī appear to have disappeared as a distinct breed by the mid-1800s.

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