During the last week, there have been many conversations circulating through different media and social networks about our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wearing a kākahu (cloak) at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Kaitiaki Māori Collection Manager Mark Sykes explains the differences between kahu huruhuru, kahu kiwi, kahu kuri, and korowai.
Last Friday international media such as the Guardian reported that Jacinda Ardern, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, was wearing a kahu huruhuru, a kākahu adorned with feathers. They also explained for their readership the significance of the kākahu.
Closer to home, however, the reports and photographs that were published of the Prime Minister reported that she was wearing a ‘korowai’ loaned to from Ngāti Rānana, a well-known roopu of Māori living in Britain, who support many of our government officials when they are in the Commonwealth.
In te ao Māori the word kākahu can describe the type of clothing one might wear, and also a word that is used when talking of Māori cloaks as a general term. This word, in parts, forms the classification of our different styles and types of kākahu.
The kākahu our PM wore as describe earlier was a kahu huruhuru, describing a kākahu that is adorned on with feathers of manu (birds). In Te Papa’s collections there many exquisite examples of kahu huruhuru, showing the feathers of the kērerē, kākā, tūī, and many other manu.
Today, kahu huruhuru are more likely to be adorned with pukeko, pheasants, or other types of manu, due to these being more readily available.
The kahu kiwi, one of the more prestige cloaks, are adorned with the feathers of the kiwi, and are held in high esteem and were worn on special occasions.
Kahu kuri (dog-skin cloaks) were the most prestigious Maori cloaks before the kuri (Pacific dog) became extinct in the early 1800s.
The hide and hair were used also used to decorate the awe of the taiaha, a fighting weapon used by our tupuna.
This type of kākahu is a very distinctive style, with the body of the kākahu and the neck border adorned with hukahuka, best describe as decorative tags. The hukahuka are made from rolled muka (flax fibre) and usually dyed black.
As you can see there are many different styles of cloaks, each being very different and distinctive, each style having their own name to distinguish one from another.
So how has korowai become the word most used to describe a kākahu?
PM’s cloak in the press
Let’s go back to the article that appear in the Guardian last Friday. Te Papa was contacted by the Guardian to seek clarity around the type of cloak the PM was wearing and what the significance was of her wearing it.
In a quick four-minute phone call, I spoke to the reporter about the type of cloak which I describe as kahu huruhuru, kākahu with feathers, and then the significance of our PM wearing the kākahu.
Good on the Guardian for making contact with Te Papa in the first instance to make sure that their information they published was the correct.
The media forum is a powerful tool. Reporting the correct name, in this case of the PM’s kākahu, means the information would reach people in Aotearoa and internationally, helping them to understand not only our Māori taonga and the correct use of words to describe our kākahu, but also their significance for Māori.
Working here at Te Papa, and being very privileged to be one of four kaitiaki (guardians) that look after the Māori taonga collections, we are often asked on many occasion ‘what is that kākahu?’ or ‘what is that taonga?’, and we then have the opportunity to tell the stories of the cloaks, as they don’t have a voice themselves.
Again I ask ‘when is a korowai not a korowai’?
Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi
With my basket and your basket the people will live