Te Rito was built in 1994, to replace the previous school, Te Whare Raranga. Over time a greater range of classes were offered, including smaller community-based courses. In 2000, night classes were introduced at Te Rito, followed by a full-time three year course.
The name ‘Te Rito’ is based on the baby shoot at the heart of the flax. Students are taught never to disturb the inner shoots when cutting flax as the baby along with its mother and father on each side is a family unit that should not be broken. Like the Carving School, Te Rito has been involved in a range of projects to develop cultural heritage assets for Māori.
Our ancestors pioneered a technique for producing a fine thread of flax fibre that was used to weave garments of extraordinary beauty, such as prized cloaks, as well as other functional items such as kete (baskets) and whariki (floor mats).
The development of the craft is due to the lack of appropriate clothing for the conditions when our people first arrived in New Zealand. With the need for additional warmth, a weaving technique was developed which allowed Māori to make garments that were both beautiful and comfortable.
In the past, the chance to learn the art of Māori weaving was only offered under strict conditions. The student would be required to prove that they were able to grasp the concepts of the lessons before they were guided through the process by two experts. Today, the protocol has been relaxed and visitors to Te Puia are able to learn some basic weaving techniques as part of the Steambox tour.
Edna Pahewa is the Head of Weaving for Te Rito and daughter of renowned weaver, Emily Schuster. She says, "Weaving has been part of my life for many years. My kuia (female elders), Ngatai Bubb, my mother Emily Schuster and my twin sister Dawn are among the many who have been my teachers and mentors." Edna previously taught weaving at Te Papa o Te Aroha and later at Te Wananga o Aotearoa.
At Te Rito students learn not only how to weave harakeke (flax), but also of the unique stories and designs of each iwi (tribe), as well as ancient protocols such as planting according to the lunar cycle and reciting prayers of thanks for flax and trees used. There are a variety of study options from night classes to a full-time three year course.
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