Traditional Māori Garments
The korowai cloak is decorated with short lengths of twisted fibre, usually dyed black. Sometimes, pompoms are substituted for the twisted cords, known as ngore. It was decorated with a bright geometric patterned tāniko border. Though rarely seen outside museums, dog-skin cloaks (kahu kuri) were highly prized. Strips of dog hide were sewn to the body of the cloak with the hairy surface showing. Sometimes tiny strips of skin and feathers were attached. As dogs were few and generally the possession of chiefs, these garments were an indicator of rank and prestige.
Of all cloaks, it is those adorned with feathers (kahu huruhuru) that were the most prestigious and indicative of high rank. Feathers from a variety of native birds were used but, when one particular species was used exclusively, such as the kiwi, the cloak was termed a ‘kahu kiwi’. Some Kahu kiwi were decorated with a variety of feathers. Because of the total protection of our native birds today, exotic species are used in most modern cloaks.
Colours utilized by Māori were derived mainly from vegetables. Black was obtained by soaking the fibre in water with crushed hinau bark then immersing it in a bath of black mud. This mud was jealously guarded by iwi (tribes). The bright red seen in tāniko weaving today is a post-European product, the original colour being reddish-brown.
Thanks to the use of today's modern textiles, some of the ancient skills in the preparation of tāniko are being lost. Te Puia however is one place where these ancient skills are preserved and where tāniko and other woven arts can be seen at each stage of their manufacture. For those pursuing these ancient skills there is the satisfaction of not only completing a piece, but the knowledge that the aims of the Institute, to preserve such skills, are being upheld.
The garment most commonly associated with the Māori is the ‘piupiu’. Although universally used today it did not exist in pre-European society. Early explorers described apron-like garments which, when shifted from waist to shoulders, served as cloaks. Early piupiu consisted of a finely woven flax foundation or kaupapa. Long, decorated strands of flax were fastened in layers on the outside. A heavy plaited waistband supported the garment.
With the development of commercial cultural events the piupiu is now almost entirely decorative. The once fine strips of flax that served to conceal or decorate have given way to a single layer of long cylindrical flax tubes. These tubes rattle against one another, with the swaying motion of the Māori dance, producing a unique sound... read more »