Image: Daniel Leal Olivas/Getty

They’re not all korowai: a master weaver on how to identify Māori garments

Master weaver Veranoa Hetet, a descendent of some of Aotearoa’s greatest weavers and carvers, sheds some light on common misconceptions around kākahu.

I te taha o taku matua, nō ngā hapū o Ngāti Kinohaku, Ngāti Rora (Ngāti Maniapoto) me Ngāti Turangitukua (Ngāti Tuwharetoa) ahau. Ko Rangi Hetet tōku matua.

I te taha o tōku whaea, nō Te Atiawa ki Waiwhetu ahau. Ko Erenora Puketapu-Hetet tōku whaea.

On the side of my father, I’m from the hapū Ngāti Kinohaku, Ngāti Rora and Ngāti Turangitukua. On the side of my mother, I am from Te Atiawa ki Waiwhetu. My mother and father are Erenora Puketapu-Hetet and Rangi Hetet.

I was born into a whānau of artists. My great grandmother, Dame Rangimārie Hetet, was a weaver of international renown as was her daughter (my great aunt) Diggeress Te Kanawa. Nana Rangimārie taught my mother Erenora to weave after my parents were married. My father has been a carver since the age of 17 when his people of Ngāti Tuwharetoa pulled him out of St Stephens college to learn to carve under the guidance of master carver Hone Taiapa of Ngāti Porou.

Being born to artistic parents made Māori art very much a part of my upbringing and it was very natural for them both to teach me. My mother started teaching me to weave when I was 13. Over the years she taught me raranga (basketry), whatu kākahu (garment weaving), tāniko (pattern making with weaving) and piupiu (flax garments most often seen on the hips of our kapa haka). My dad taught me kōwhaiwhai (painted ornamentation) and tukutuku (lattice-work panels). My parents are internationally renowned artists and spent their lives not only creating taonga and artworks but also teaching. They also taught me to teach, which is what I have been doing for the past 30 years. Living next door to my parents and working in the same studios as my parents ensured that weaving and other artforms were an integral part of my everyday life.

The umbrella term for garments is kākahu. Under this umbrella term sits all garments that are named differently – according to the use, where on the body it is worn, what it is decorated with. So sitting under that umbrella term kākahu are maro (the apron like garment worn around the waist), piupiu (which were traditionally worn around the shoulders ) and all forms of cloaks.

Master weavers Rangimārie Hetet and Diggeress Te Kanawa. Image: Te Ara Encyclopaedia of New Zealand

A lot of people don’t realise the incredible amount of work that goes into weaving a traditional kākahu. There are so many stages to the preparation even before the weaving of the kākahu can begin. Loads of harakeke has to be gathered, stripped and sized before the painstaking task of extracting the fibres with a mussell shell begins. The fibres are then plied on the leg (we don’t have a spinning wheel to make weaveable whenu (warp) and aho (weft) threads), washed and pounded. If the kākahu features feathers, the birds have to be plucked and the feathers readied. The weaving itself takes months and months of monotonous work with the hands.

Nowadays people are increasingly creating contemporary garments using cottons or using fabric with strips of feathers sewn on with a sewing machine – a situation which helps blunt awareness of how kākahu are created in the traditional way. Some people now think that kākahu can be created in a week.

The kahu huruhuru worn to a dinner at Buckingham Palace by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was loaned to her by London-based group Ngāti Rānana. Image:  Victoria Jones/Getty

I am not sure at which point in our history the umbrella term changed from kākahu to korowai. The word korowai is misused and thrown about to speak of all cloaks. A korowai is a specific type of kākahu that quite simply features hukahuka (tassles). It can also feature feathers and tāniko, but unless it features hukahuka it is not a korowai.

Pictured are true korowai.

Image: © Veranoa Hetet

This is a korowai woven by my great grandmother Rangimārie Hetet for her eldest child – my grandfather. It took her nine months of her life. Hand woven from muka, hukahuka and spotted kiwi feathers. It is the ultimate example of a korowai:

Korowai made by Dame Rangimārie Hetet. Image: © Veranoa Hetet

Muka is the fibre traditionally used to weave kākahu. The weaving technique is ‘whatu’. Very simple but very monotonous. Every little = you see is a stitch made by hand:

A kahukiwi woven by my mum, Erenora Puketapu-Hetet made with spotted kiwi, brown kiwi, pūkeko, takahe, weka, kererū, kākā and kea feathers:

Erenora Puketapu-Hetet, 1996. Image: Te Papa

Mum requested it be worn as it ‘is a living art’ – not just to be held in collection vaults. It is worn by visiting dignitaries. Here it is being worn by Prince William, Dr. Santo Versace and Major General Peter Kelly:

My mum Erenora wearing the kaitaka that belonged to her tipuna Ruhia Porutu. A kaitaka is a finely woven kākahu with no adornment, and has tāniko on one or more sides. It is the ultimate a weaver can produce as the weaving cannot be hidden by feathers – the work is laid bare:

 

Erenora Puketapu-Hetet. Image: © Veranoa Hetet

This is ‘Pouhine’. I designed her based on a kaitaka huaki – two kaitaka joined together to create a single kākahu. She is awarded, temporarily, to the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year. Every year she finds herself wrapped around the shoulders of a new great New Zealander:

Image: Veranoa Hetet / Facebook

Here is the inside of one of my kākahu, not often seen. I show it to you now and stand with the hands of six generations of weavers in my family holding me up. Thanks for sharing today with me. Ngā mihi ki a koutou katoa.

Image: © Veranoa Hetet


The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.

Related:


The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.