Māori originally wove flax into practical items such as baskets and fishing nets. Over time, this unique skill became recognised as a prized art form.

Weaving women

When Māori first arrived in Aotearoa, they encountered a much colder climate than their homeland in Hawaiki.

They adapted quickly by using their weaving skills to produce Korowai (cloaks) and other practical objects such as kete (baskets) and whāriki (mats).

The most widely used weaving material was (and still is) harakeke - otherwise known as New Zealand flax.

Weaving was traditionally done by women, and skilled weavers are prized within their tribes. As the whakataukī (māori proverb) says, "Aitia te wahine o te pā harakeke", which means "Marry the woman who is always at the flax bush", for she is an expert flax worker and a diligent person.

Symbolism in weaving

As with all forms of Māori art, weaving is full of symbolism and meaning. Each piece of raranga is a reminder of the skills and stories Māori brought across the ocean with them. Weaving is a living art form passed down from the ancestors and a strong symbol of the survival of Māori culture

The Kete, for example, is used in everyday life as a basket or bag - also used to hold/carry food. It can also represent a container of knowledge and wisdom.

Korowai, Traditional Cloak

As well as practical items, women would weave beautiful garments such as skirts and Korowai.

Traditionally, Korowai were woven by hand between two upright weaving pegs.

Feathers and decorative threads were integrated into the fabric as the weaving progressed. Natural dyes were used to achieve various colours; paru (swamp mud) was used to achieve a black tone, and tanekaha (bark) produced brown.

The feathered Korowai, or Kahu kiwi, is a sacred garment.

Each Korowai is a taonga (treasured possession), as they were woven from kiwi feathers. They were traditionally reserved for chiefs and elders but could also be made for family members or honoured members of the tribe.


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