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Local History

Local Maori Women Feature in Auckland Museum Project

Bess Kingi stands proudly in an historic Kahu Kereru (made of Kereru feathers) dated from 1850 and held at the Auckland Museum. The poster featuring Bess is on show at Britomart Train Station Auckland, displayed on their Pavilion Art Walkway. The poster is one of many featuring other Maori and Pacifica weavers including two more of our local weavers, Deborah Phillips and Vicky Southern as part of the Museum’s Te Aho Mutunga Kore project.
 |  Deborah Phillips  |  ,
Local Maori Women Auckland Museum

The large group of Maori and Pacifica women weavers pictured are from across New Zealand and were invited to be a part of the Te Aho Mutunga Kore project led by Auckland Museum.  They are a group of women studying weaving and cultural taonga from their own heritage and expressing their own artistic gifts.  This makes a difference to their lives and to our community.

This wonderful good news story of Maori and Pacifica women may not have come about except for some quite wonderful ‘coincidences’. The Informer asked Deborah Phillips, Kaiako and leader of a local Whitianga weavers group, Te Roopu Whatu Kakahu, to tell her story.

It was very exciting for Bess Kingi, Deborah Phillips and Vicky Southern to see Bess, larger than life on a poster at Auckland’s Britomart.

Where are they all?

“I decided to take our group, who weave Kakahu HuruHuru to the Auckland  Museum to see the Kakahu (Maori feathered cloaks) on display and learn a little about them.  I wrote to the Curator of the Auckland Museum to ask if anyone could meet us and tell us about the Kakahu. So it was that Dr. Kahutoi Te Kanawa met us at the Museum and graciously spoke to us about the pieces on display.

We loved seeing them and hearing the information, but we were disappointed in that there were only three or four pieces on display.  We asked, “Where are they all?”

Dr Te Kanawa promised to get back to us and she wrote a letter to me following our visit asking, ‘What would you like to do?’

I asked if we could visit the archives and learn something of the history of the Kakahu, the way they were woven and the material and fibres used to weave them.

First coincidence: We had no idea that the Museum was in the midst of a project, the first of its kind project – to include Maori and Pacifica women involved in community weaving groups to come to the Museum archives to see Taonga of their choosing to study and to momentarily place on their shoulders.

The project enables weavers to access and study the technique of Tupuna (ancestors) from the fibre and textile collection in the Museum’s archives, usually not seen by the public. The initiative was also aiming to strengthen ties with Maori and Pacifica communities to create a safe pathway for Taonga tuku iho (knowledge transmission). Dr Te Kanawa was a Co – director of the Project and warmly invited us to be a part of it.

We were invited to participate in this national project. As a result, Bess Kingi, long time weaver, embroiderer and local Community Board member, Vicky Southern, weaver and counsellor at Whitianga Social Services and myself all became involved. How exciting for us to be included!

This was a once in a life-time opportunity and we all feel excited and honoured to have been part of this ground-breaking initiative. Dr Kahutoi Te Kanawa was not only a Co – director of this Project but the daughter of the late Dame Diggeress Te Kanawa who was a revered weaver in Aotearoa New Zealand. Dr Te Kanawa has been instrumental in enabling our participation and we are very grateful for her support.

As part of the project, we were all gifted with a beautiful portrait of each of our photos wearing the Kakahu.

Second coincidence:  I  came into The Informer office to ask if they could place our story somewhere in the paper knowing it was past the deadline.  As I walked in, the staff were in full discussion about publishing something local related to Waitangi Day to feature in the coming edition  rather than something from national news.  The editor looked at my material and said, ‘Thank you.’

Third coincidence: This very issue was to ‘hit the streets’ on Waitangi Day all around the Coromandel Peninsula. This mattered a great deal to me as my Tupuna Grandfather, Te Runga Pokai of Ngati Paoa signed Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Perhaps events such as these are not a coincidence. I believed the series of happenings were meant to be.”

Editors Notes:

From Stuff: “He Tohu, lead curator, Stefanie Lash, says, “We cannot forget that so far historians believe they have identified about 18 signatures thought to have come from women  who signed Te Tiriti O Waitangi. Remembering that Te Tiriti comprises nine sheets and more than 500 signatures, it’s been along process to find these signatures. “

“….wāhine could be rangatira in their own right, they could exercise power on behalf of whānau, hapū and iwi”, says Lash.

Deborah and the women in this story, like their forebears, are not strangers to leadership and risk and many speak with ‘mana’. Their work with weaving is symbolic of their weaving a future – painstakingly working the detail of relationships and context, believing the many strands can all come together.

May this Waitangi Day herald a uniting of cultures, races and economies for the sake of a safe and prosperous future for all who love this land.