Prestige cloaks are fit for a rangatira (person of authority), as in this whakataukī:
He māhiti ki runga, he paepaeroa ki raro
Koia nei te kākahu o te rangatira!
A dog hair cloak on top, a fine cloak underneath
These are the garments of a chief!1
Among the most prestigious of kākahu (garments) were the kahu kurī, or dog-skin and dog-hair cloaks. These could be worn with the hair side inwards to keep the wearer warm, but were more often worn with the hair side outwards, so that their flamboyance and style displayed their owner’s chiefly status. Known as war cloaks and worn only by chiefs, this type of cloak was recorded by James Cook in 1769–70.
Kahu kurī had a base of closely woven muka (flax fibre), completely overlaid with strips of stitched-on dog-skin or dog hair. Colour combinations were known by specific names, such as:
- Tōpuni (close together, completely cover, saturate). This type of cloak has a body of black strips of dog hair bordered with white strips at front edges and neckline.
- Ihupuni. A dog-skin cloak similar to the topuni, except with a white body and black borders.
- Awarua (two rivers, two grooves). Dog-skin cloak with alternating bands of dark and light hair.
- Māhiti (sort, separate according to size), kahu waero (cloak of tails). Cloak with attachments of awe (tassels) of dog hair shaved from the underside of the tail.
The only full kākāpō-feather cloak known is in the collection of the Perth Museum, Perth, Scotland. It was collected in 1842 by Scotsman David Ramsay, a curio collector and ship’s surgeon who lived in Australia in 1822. Dating from the early 1800s, the cloak is estimated to have over 11,000 kākāpō feathers, with a lower fringe that includes black wool and pokinikini (dried, and rolled flax tubes). Two red kākā feathers were discovered amongst the kākāpō.
Pauku or pukupuku (literally swelling, inflammation) cloaks were woven with compact rows of whatu patahi (single-pair weft twining) creating a dense fabric. They were worn as protective garments in combat. When immersed in water the fibres expanded, making the cloak impenetrable. Pauku were also worn around the forearms for protection in hand-to-hand combat.
The full-feather cloak appears to have flourished from the second half of the 19th century, and has become the most prestigious cloak. An early example thought to be more than 300 years old was observed at a burial cave on Mary Island, Lake Hauroko, Fiordland.
Red kākā-feather cloaks were especially highly prized. Throughout the Pacific the colour red symbolised power, sacredness and prestige. The chiefly qualities of the kākā contributed to the status of this type of cloak. Its feathers symbolised warmth and protection, as well as stunning beauty. Other native bird feathers prized for cloaks include the kiwi, kererū (wood pigeon), kākāpō, tūī, kākāriki (parakeet), toroa (albatross) and many others. The range of colours and variations of feathers gave the weaver scope to explore bold use of block colour and geometric patterns.
In later garments, feathers from introduced birds were used in an endless array of multi-coloured patterns and designs. The feathers were attached to the garment in the same way as the outer fibre for rain capes: each feather shaft was bent back on itself so it could be woven in a second time, holding the feather securely. Full traditional feather cloaks have thousands of feathers attached, each painstakingly twined into the weft rows of the garment.
The kaitaka was a type of cloak also seen by explorer James Cook and his officers in their voyages in the late 18th century. Kaitaka are generally very large, and were worn to drape around a person several times. The golden, silky sheen of the finely woven muka foundation was from specially selected varieties of harakeke (New Zealand flax). The body is left undecorated, and the side and lower borders are woven into bands of multi-coloured geometric designs using a technique called tāniko. Traditionally the colours for tāniko were achieved through dyeing the muka using a mordant (a fixing agent), for black, and bark dyes, for brown and gold.
Types of kaitaka cloaks include:
- kaitaka paepaeroa-aho – weft rows worn vertically
- kaitaka aronui and pātea-aho – weft rows worn horizontally with a deep lower tāniko border
- kaitaka huaki – double or multiple tāniko borders, giving the appearance of a layering of cloaks
- kaitaka ngore-ngore – woollen pom-poms, usually red, attached to the body of the cloak.
Another type of cloak, the korowai, evolved from the rain cape. These cloaks are decorated with hukahuka, or long cords of rolled muka fibre, or pokinikini, cylindrical, dried harakeke strands with intervals of black-dyed muka. Some korowai were dyed with kōkōwai (red ochre), which was also smeared on the body and hair. The korowai became popular during the first half of the 19th century and, like the kaitaka, featured woollen designs and motifs on its surface. An exciting range of colour and design evolved from this period, including combinations of hukahuka, feathers and tāniko borders.