Story: Māori clothing and adornment – kākahu Māori

Page 5. Practical wear

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Māori constructed and wore practical, protective garments in hardy materials to keep warm and dry. These included rain capes and cloaks made from a variety of materials. Shorter than a cloak, rain capes were covered with hukahuka, strips or shreds of fibre, twined in rows that resembled roof thatching. This ingenious design channelled rain off the cape.

The weaving technique for most rain capes and cloaks was whatu aho patahi, single-pair twining, which enabled faster construction. Materials included harakeke (flax), kiekie, tōī, tī kōuka (cabbage-tree leaves), neinei (grass tree), kuta and pīngao (sedges), grasses such as eel grass, wīwī (rushes), pātītī (tussock), and rare materials such as tikumu (mountain daisy leaves) and club moss stems.

Types of rain capes and cloaks include:

  • Pākē – whenu (warp strands) form the outer thatching. Also known as pūreke by some tribes.
  • Hieke – hukahuka, or strips of fibres, are doubled over and twined to the outer surface.
  • Whakatipu – a well-made dress rain cape.
  • Para kiekie – rain cape made with kiekie fibre.
  • Mangaeka or tihetihe – rain cape made with yellow-gold and black harakeke. The yellow-gold harakeke colour was achieved by warming the blades of the flax leaf over hot embers.
  • Kahu tōī – cape made from tōī (mountain-cabbage tree leaves) that has been retted (fibres separated using water), dyed black using customary mordant (fixing agent) and mud dye. These capes were worn by warriors. They were waterproof, robust and dark to aid concealment.
  • Tikumu – cape made from tikumu, mountain daisy leaves. Worn by chiefs.

In the 2000s rain capes were making a comeback, with weavers using both customary and contemporary materials and styles. Waka paddlers and people celebrating important occasions wore colourful varieties of rain capes with pride.

Footwear

Māori did not normally use footwear, but sandals and leggings were made when necessary to cross rocky or difficult areas. Sandals were usually plaited from strips of tī kōuka leaves, which were sometimes doubled and were attached to the feet by lacing across the top of the foot. In extremely cold conditions the sole of the sandal was sometimes stuffed with moss.

Leggings were much rarer. They did not extend above the knee. Some were twined, with ties to fasten around the calf.

For crossing the passes of the Southern Alps in the early 19th century, a group of Poutini Ngāi Tahu wore pararae (sandals) made of plaited harakeke, tī kōuka or mountain grass. They took many extra pairs and made more on their way using available materials. If made well using the best materials they could last several days, but wore out more quickly on stony ground. Mountain flax on stones would not hold out for more than half a day.

How to cite this page:

Awhina Tamarapa and Patricia Wallace, 'Māori clothing and adornment – kākahu Māori - Practical wear', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/maori-clothing-and-adornment-kakahu-maori/page-5 (accessed 27 July 2017)

Story by Awhina Tamarapa and Patricia Wallace, published 5 Sep 2013