Weaving in decline
Cloak-making and other fibre arts were practised less frequently from the early 20th century. The introduction of European clothing and other new materials, the increasing scarcity of certain traditional materials such as native bird feathers, and discouragement by the missionaries of whare pora (house of weaving) traditions all contributed to this decline.
Diggeress Te Kanawa
A number of dedicated women sustained the weaving arts and passed them on to younger female relatives. Perhaps the most significant was Diggeress Te Kanawa (of Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Kinohaku), the daughter of another renowned weaver, Dame Rangimarie Hetet. Te Kanawa took part in hui in the 1950s hosted by the Maori Women’s Welfare League to promote whāriki-making and other weaving traditions. For the next 50 years she remained at the forefront of the promotion and revival of Māori weaving. Te Kanawa was a founding member of Aotearoa Moananui a Kiwa Weavers, later Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, the National Māori Weavers Collective of New Zealand. She received many awards for her work, including a CNZM in 2000 and an honorary doctorate in 2007.
A sustained revival of weaving traditions began in 1969, when a national weaving school, Te Rito, was established at Rotorua, alongside the existing national carving school. The first head of Te Rito was Emily Schuster. Te Rito trains students in the art and skills of traditional weaving either through a full-time three-year course, or in part-time community-based courses. Students are taught the skills of the art form, the traditions and tikanga (protocols) and the stories and designs unique to each iwi. Traditional Māori weaving is also taught in tertiary and other educational institutions.
The Eternal Thread
In 2004 a major exhibition of traditional fibre arts, The Eternal Thread – Te Aho Mutunga Kore, opened at Pataka museum in Porirua. It toured to other regional museums before being exhibited in San Francisco in 2005. Following a three-year tour of the United States, ‘The eternal thread’ returned in 2007 for a final showing at the Christchurch Art Gallery – Te Puna o Waiwhetū, attracting 81,000 visitors.
New pā harakeke
To support the nationwide revival of fibre arts, many new pā harakeke (stands of flax for weaving) have been established by marae, local authorities and other bodies. A Christchurch park, Janet Stewart Reserve, incorporates an extensive pā harakeke named Te Kōrari as a taonga (treasure) for the Christchurch weaving community. Christchurch City Council worked closely with a group of local weavers to develop this pā harakeke.
Guardians of tradition
In the 21st century Māori weavers maintain the use of traditional materials, dyes, patterns and techniques, but many are also willing to adapt and reinterpret them. Newer materials such as corn husks, wool and the feathers of introduced birds are now incorporated into woven articles. However, pride of place in matters of Māori etiquette is still given to traditional woven products. The kaitiaki (guardians) of tikanga (customs) associated with weaving uphold these traditions as they apply them through the processes of making.