Kahu Ora: Weaving stories and people

When taonga are brought out of the stores and into the light, they have a transformative power on their descendants. This tangible feeling is elicited immediately when you enter Kahu Ora: Living Cloaks.

At the opening of the exhibition, I entered the gallery to the sound of karakia reverberating around the walls of the gallery followed by a waiata sung by a visiting school. Returning to the exhibition yesterday was another sensory experience; the sounds of a waiata set to a performance of harakeke and the voices of the people experiencing the exhibition.

A woman uses a patu muka (flax-fibre beater) to prepare fibre for weaving, 1921 by James McDonald. Te Papa

A woman uses a patu muka (flax-fibre beater) to prepare fibre for weaving, 1921 by James McDonald. Te Papa

There are weavers in residence from Wednesday to Sunday each week from 12-4pm. Yesterday I had the chance to sit and talk with one of them, Kohai Grace, about a kākahu she is working on. The kākahu is being made for her whanau and has been touched by and worked on by many of her family members including one of the Collection Manager-Māori, Moana Parata. Moana explained to me how the feathers for the kākahu had been gifted to her by a Te Papa member in the natural history department who no longer had a use for them. They had been cleaned and prepared beautifully and the decision was made to use them in the kākahu. This story is symbolic of the connections between people that taonga Māori represent and how powerful this connection is.

As I walked through the exhibition yesterday I came across a kākahu that was given to ethnographer Elsdon Best by the Tūhoe rangatira Tūtakangāhau after the death of his granddaughter Marewa-i-te-Rangi. This connection brought me to tears, standing in front of a taonga of such intricate beauty from my own iwi, I felt humbled in her presence. My koroua is a direct descendant of Tūtakangāhau and my older brother is named after him, I also have a niece named after Marewa-i-te-Rangi so I felt the connection very profoundly. Last night I told my brother about the exhibition and he has decided to bring in his class when he next visits Wellington from Rotorua.

Kahu huruhuru (feather cloak), c. 1890, New Zealand. Maker unknown. Te Papa

Kahu huruhuru (feather cloak), c. 1890, New Zealand. Maker unknown. Te Papa

This is the transformative power of taonga Māori and the connection they have to their people. Taonga continue to connect people to one another and to themselves, accumulating kōrero and transcending time. Kahu Ora connects people and weaves together their kōrero, it has brought the taonga out of the stores to be warmed by their descendants and I implore you all to come along and experience it.

This weekend there are many events on at Te Papa as part of the Matariki celebrations. You can also find out more about kākahu on the Te Papa website.

Matariki Williams

Matariki Events at Te Papa
Kākahu Māori Cloaks website

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