Unique dog skin cloak – soon to be on show at Te Papa

Every exhibition I work on is different. Each time I learn more and my basket of knowledge (my kete) expands and grows. This time it’s a wonderful exhibition about Māori cloaks, which features many kākahu from Te Papa’s collection, plus a small number of unique taonga which we’re fortunate to borrow from elsewhere.

Kahu Ora Living Cloaks opens in about 2 weeks time on Friday 7 June, and we start to install the taonga in the gallery next week. A week or so ago a very special cloak, a huru kurī, made from eight dog skin, or kurī, pelts stitched together arrived on loan from Puke Ariki in New Plymouth.

I was one of a  group of staff  who were excited to see this unique cloak – the only one of its kind that exists today – for the first time. We had read about it, researched it, and written about it for the exhibition, but this was the first chance to see this taonga close up. The person who once wisely cautioned me to never write a label for an object without seeing it for yourself – well they were right…

Te Papa staff look at the huru kurī cloak in Te Whare Pora, the collection store. Photograph by Moana Parata, copyright Te Papa.

Te Papa staff look at the huru kurī cloak in Te Whare Pora, the collection store. Photograph by Moana Parata, copyright Te Papa.

What really struck me was that each of the eight dog pelts stitched together to make the cloak is different. Some are white, some are dark black, and one has fox-like fur of quite a different texture. The white fur on another pelt is quite curly. And while I knew that the tails and pointed ears of the dogs were visible on this cloak it was another thing altogether to see them!

Te Papa staff look at the huru kurī, cloak stitched from whole dog skins, on loan from Puke Ariki. Photograph by Moana Parata, copyright Te Papa.

Te Papa staff look at the huru kurī, cloak stitched from whole dog skins, on loan from Puke Ariki. Photograph by Moana Parata, copyright Te Papa.

Under the careful supervision of Conservator Anne Peranteau we  looked at the other side of the cloak.  Anne pointed out where you could see the imprint of the dogs’ ribs, still visible in the dried skin. To see the thickness of the leather and the quality of the stitching made me realise how much skill and effort was involved in making this cloak.

This taonga will now be carefully mounted and displayed in a section of the Kahu Ora Living Cloaks exhibition that looks at Māori sewing technology and recent research in this area by experts such as Dr Patricia Te Arapo Wallace.

To find out more about the huru kurī, the history of the cloak and see more images go to:
http://vernon.npdc.govt.nz/search.do?id=294155&db=object&page=1&view=detail

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