Pacific Collection Manager Grace Hutton and the rest of the Pacific Cultures team acknowledge the recent passing of artist and maker of tīvaevae Mama Maria Teokota’I.
Kua ‘aere ki te po, Gone into the night
In addition to being a very creative tīvaevae designer, Mama Maria was also a very religious and spiritual woman. She made her first tīvaevae, an embroidered orchid pattern, in 1962 when she was 24 and made her last one (pictured above) in 2013.
She is most celebrated for the tīvaevae ‘Ina and the Shark’ of world fame and the most published tivaevae in the Pacific Cultures collection at Te Papa.
The story stitched and embroidered into the tīvaevae illustrates the legend of Ina a young woman who decided she wanted to visit her betrothed Tinirau, the god of fishes who lived far away across the Pacific Ocean. To get there she asks the king of sharks to help her to see him so he carried her on his back.
On 25 June 2017 I visited Mama Maria at her house in Takuvaine, Rarotonga, to find out where she got her inspiration from. I asked how did she came up with the idea to design her most well known tīvaevae, in response she told me that “God gave her the talent”.
She didn’t know why she designed it but it just came into her mind and she cut the pieces to fit. A group of ladies from the Catholic Church, St Joseph’s, Avarua helped her to embroider the tīvaevae which was shown at the opening of the Auditorium and Cultural Centre in 1992.
She designed two other tīvaevae in a similar vein to ‘Ina and the Shark’. One was of a woman sitting on a horse holding a bunch of flowers, and the last one she designed pictured a mountain, butterflies, trees and flowers.
Mama Maria felt that embroidering tīvaevae was getting too time consuming for her, so as an alternative she bought paint and painted her tivaevae to sell instead. Still being creative until the end.
Mama Maria had 11 children of whom seven still survive, she was the grandmother of 37 grandchildren, 43 great grandchildren, and 4 great-great grandchildren.