The most significant collection of traditional Maori kakahu (cloaks) and weaving ever shown in New Zealand will open on Sunday as a major exhibition at Waikato Museum.
E Nga Uri Whakatapu is a tribute to the life achievements of Dame Rangimarie Hetet (1892 - 1995) and her daughter Diggeress Te Kanawa (1920 - 2009), who were both tohunga of mahi raranga whatu (traditional Maori weaving experts).
The women, of Ngati Maniapoto and Ngati Kinohaku descent, are acknowledged as New Zealand's finest traditional Maori weavers. Their generosity of spirit and passion for the revival of Maori women's arts gave new life to traditional Maori weaving.
The Hetet and Te Kanawa collections comprise more than 75 individual pieces and represent the unbroken weaving traditions of one whanau that spans five generations, or 150 years. The collection will be presented in two parts for the course of the exhibition.
It is the largest private collection of Maori traditional weaving from one family in the world.
E Nga Uri Whakatupu also acknowledges other Maori weavers, such as Emily Schuster and the role of the Maori Women's Welfare League and Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa (National Maori Weavers Collective).
It was not long after Maori arrived in New Zealand, around the year 1250, that they discovered the useful properties of flax, including using the nectar from its flowers to make a sweet drink and the roots as a means of treating skin infections. Perhaps most importantly, it could be twisted and woven into a range of items, such as fishing nets and traps, footwear, cords and ropes.
Different types of flax were used by different iwi for different purposes. The cultivar Maeneene was used by the Ngai Tuhoe people of Urewera to weave finely-patterned mats. Ngati Porou sought the Takirikau cultivar for making piupiu (kilts). The Kohungaa cultivar produced muka that Ngati Maniapoto used for their finest cloaks. Whanganui tribes chose the Ate cultivar for making eel nets and kete (baskets).
Flax was also a way of passing on culture. Through the patterns in woven articles, stories were told and beliefs affirmed. Although European clothing replaced flax garments, weaving as an art survived and, led by Hetet and Te Kanawa, experienced a revival in the 20th century.