This week we’re honoured to host the launch of the second edition of Whatu Kākahu (edited by Te Papa Press), a pivotal text edited by Awhina Tamarapa, Honorary Research Associate for the Mātauranga Māori team.
Written with the participation of numerous weavers and textiles scholars from across the country, Whatu Kākahu threw open the doors of the Māori textiles collection – Te Whare Pora – and was a hugely successful book, quickly selling out after its release in 2011.
Now reprinted with a new chapter, Whatu Kākahu is set to enlighten the world once again about the precious artform of cloak weaving.
Awhina shares her journey and allows us an insight into the collaborative approach that she took to develop this important book.
Opening the storeroom drawers
“It is so important for the world to know that not only is there a catalogue of all these cloaks, but there is the knowledge, the meaning, that gives them value.”
Kataraina Hetet – weavers’ wānanga, Te Papa, 3-5 August 2007
In August 2007, an exceptional group of Māori weavers was invited to Te Papa to help plan for a book that would eventually become Whatu Kākahu: Māori Cloaks. The discussions took place over three days in Te Whare Pora o Hine te-iwaiwa, the aptly named Māori weaving storeroom. The lively Norman Heke was the museum photographer and videographer for this project. My role was the gatherer – the person fortunate enough to bring together the expertise of weavers, descendants, and researchers.
There was much laughter, debate, tears, excitement, and moments of awe over those three special days. It was a profound experience, being amongst the taonga collection in the company of such knowledgeable and inspiring practitioners. The quote from Kataraina Hetet was just one of the gems that we recorded from this gathering. Her sentiments expressed the purpose of the book. It also explains why it is crucial to have a publication like it in the public domain. A practitioner-led resource speaks with an authority of lived experience and active agency like no other.
Weaving the threads together
For the next several years, Norman Heke and I interviewed noted weavers such as Diggeress Te Kanawa, Te Aue Davis, and Eddie Maxwell. Their perspectives were enlightening. Chapter authors were invited to contribute their expertise on a broad range of topics, from cultural concepts and values to technology and science. Kahutoi Te Kanawa and John Turi-Tiakitai wrote about the cultural value of kākahu. Toi Te Rito Maihi explained spiritual concepts intrinsic to the practice and resources of weaving. Patricia Wallace wrote about ancestral technological knowledge. Maureen Lander looked at innovation as a continuum of weaving, and Margery Blackman provided insight into the development of whatu, finger weft twining, as a weaving technique. It was such a privilege to be in constant communication with the authors and weavers, who gave a huge amount of support and encouragement throughout the whole undertaking.
The book was launched at the Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa National Hui at Kāwhia marae, Kāwhia, in October 2011. It was nominated in the illustrated non-fiction category for the New Zealand Post Book Awards and won the Mahi Toi Arts category of the Ngā Kupu Ora Māori Book Awards in 2012. Staff then worked really hard on a major exhibition at Te Papa, based on the wealth of information generated by the book and the strong relationship with the national weavers’ collective. From June 8 to October 22 in 2012, Te Papa held the Kahu Ora: Living Cloaks exhibition. It was a popular exhibition that drew an audience of over 100,000. What people most enjoyed was the opportunity to interact with and observe weavers creating as an integral part of the experience.
Overall, this entire venture took six years, from the instigation of the book to the exhibition. In actuality, weavers had been engaging with the museum for many years before then. The renowned Erenora Puketapu Hetet, her master carver husband Rangi Hetet and their family initiated a training programme called Te Whānau Paneke, for young Māori based at the National Museum (the predecessor to Te Papa) in the late 1980s. Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, led by the chair at that time, Cath Brown, partnered a hugely successful public event at Te Papa in 2000. Called Ngā Here o Te Ao: Ties of the World, thirteen renowned cloak weavers demonstrated cloak weaving on the marae at Te Papa. The week-long event, organised by Roma Potiki, showed just how overwhelming the public interest was in Māori weaving and weavers of the highest calibre.
The idea for Whatu Kākahu: Māori Cloaks originated with Arapata Hakiwai, then the Director of Mātauranga Māori at Te Papa. He believed that taonga, cultural treasures, shouldn’t be metaphorically left ‘in the dark’ of museum storerooms. Being able to research and navigate complex histories to make reconnections to whānau, hapū, and iwi and develop collaborative relationships is a key aspect of Māori curatorial work. If a taonga is stored away in the dark, then what? It becomes isolated from its people, from their daily lives, losing meaning and relevance with each passing generation. An aim of the book was to turn that around. ‘Opening the doors’ was to reveal the significance and meaning of the taonga in the collection, from the perspectives of the weavers and cultural knowledge holders. In essence, the living practice of weaving informs a big gap in museums’ approaches to supporting cultural community needs and aspirations. How is that so?
Cultural restoration is a form of liberation in a museum context, wrote social anthropologist and museum studies professor, Christina Kreps. Restoring the mana (authority, prestige) to weaving was a major motivator for the first national Māori and Pacific weavers’ forum at Pākirikiri marae, Tokomaru Bay, in 1983. These are two very critical, related concerns that museums can help with. Cultural restoration is the act of reclaiming a practice, a knowledge or value system, ways of doing things, customs, beliefs. Liberation, in a museum context, is the ability of the people to define, determine and manage that practice in order to inform current museum systems and their accountability to diverse communities.
Te Kumeroa Ngoingoi Pewhairangi, a prominent Te Reo Māori advocate and founding member of the South Pacific Arts Council (MASPAC), facilitated the 1983 weavers’ hui. Her challenge to return the mana to weaving urged weavers to take action and lead matters on their own terms. Weavers have worked hard since then to collectively address serious issues; to uplift the profile of Māori weaving, to protect weaving resources and to continue customs and practices. The Aotearoa Te Moananui a Kiwa group, the national Māori and Pacific weavers’ association, was formed. In 1994 the Māori weavers established their own group, Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, now under the auspices of Toi Māori, a charitable trust administering to ten Māori artforms.
So, where do museums come in? The taonga held by museums have generations of people connected to them. This is true for all cultural items in museums, not just those of Māori and indigenous peoples. The Te Papa Mana Taonga policy recognises the spiritual and cultural connections that iwi and communities have to their taonga or collections in the museum. It is an important principle that guides decision making and collaboration with communities. Museums, as custodians, have a responsibility to care for these taonga or collections, not just physically but also the knowledge, the intangible heritage, that gives them value. Museums, therefore, can make a difference by helping to co-facilitate cultural reconnections through supporting living art practices. In profound ways, customary practice provides a holistic approach to nurturing and growing knowledge that sustains a culture and enrichens people’s understanding.
The new edition
Whatu Kākahu: Māori Cloaks went out of print in a matter of months. For the next seven years, weavers were lobbying for a reprint. Thanks to Mark Sykes (former Collection Manager at Te Papa, also an accomplished weaver) and a new Te Papa Press team led by the extraordinary Nicola Legat, the opportunity to publish a new edition was made.
The new edition has preserved the original chapters, with an addition to bring the book up to date with relevant topics and activities focused on the Te Papa collection. Some of the contemporary cloaks acquired by Te Papa since the book was first published are featured in this new section. There are interviews with weavers who have researched the collection to inform their own work and with museum staff, both Māori and non-Māori, who talk about their roles as custodians. Senior weavers of Kāhui Whiri Toi share their views on the importance of maintaining tikanga or customs and how they view museums. As the editor, I felt it was timely to introduce these discussions for readers to think about because these are issues that are at the core of museum and Māori relationships moving forward.
It has been a privilege to be able to bring this book back into circulation again. My sincere gratitude to Nicola Legat and the amazing Te Papa Press team, to the many Te Papa staff, notably Arapata Hakiwai, Puawai Cairns, Lauren Campbell, Moana Parata, Anne Peranteau, Josh Barraud, Maarten Holl, Haley Hakaraia, Chrissie Locke, Lisa Osborne, Amber Aranui, and Shane James, who are making the book launch, cloak display, and events possible on the day. I am grateful to the Rongowhakaata iwi kaumatua Taharākau Stewart and April Nepia-Suā for their incredible tautoko.
Finally, the book would not be possible without the original chapter authors, the weavers, and all those in both editions for allowing us to include their outstanding contributions.
Whatua mai te aho, kia kāwitiwiti, kia kātoatoa. Mō te oti wawe, e hine rā
Weave the thread across with wide and narrow spaces. Finish it quickly, my girl 
 Christina Kreps, Liberating Culture: Cross -Cultural Perspectives on Museums, Curation and Heritage Preservation (London, U.K & New York, U.S: Routledge, 2003)
 Read Schorch, Philipp, and Arapata Hakiwai. “Mana Taonga and the Public Sphere: A Dialogue between Indigenous Practice and Western Theory.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 17, no. 2 (March 2014): 191–205
 Margaret Orbell and Mervyn McLean, Songs of a Kaumatua (Auckland University Press, 2002), p.164