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The Coming of the Maori

5 — Clothing

page 158


When the ancestors of the maori were living in central Polynesia, they required little in the way of clothing beyond what was dictated by the feelings of modesty. When the early settlers arrived in New Zealand, it is to be assumed that they were wearing the type of garments that were in vogue in central Polynesia at the time of leaving. There is no reason to believe that the types of essential garments underwent any change in the homeland during the centuries that followed the separation for the climatic conditions did not change and the raw material was always available.

A comparative study of Polynesian clothing reveals that the garments for ordinary wear consisted of a loincloth for men and a skirt for women, though varying developments have taken place in garments and head-dresses for festive occasions, for chiefly regalia, and for some priestly ceremonies. The men's loincloth, termed mano or malo, was a long strip of material, ten to twelve inches wide, which was passed backwards between the thighs to cover the genitals and then wound around the waist for support. The women's skirt, termed pareu in the Cook and Society Islands, was a wider piece of material wound around the waist and descending to above the knees for single girls and below the knees for married women.

The materials of which the loincloth and skirt were made differed in volcanic islands and atolls. In volcanic islands, they were made of bark cloth beaten from the inner bark of the introduced paper mulberry termed aute in central Polynesia. In atolls where the paper mulberry would not grow, the loincloth was plaited as a long band from pandanus leaf. In Rakahanga atoll (96, p. 136), the term maro included two types of plaited loincloth, a short and a long. The short type, specifically termed mahere, was passed between the legs and kept up by a length of sennit passed around the waist, the ends then hanging down over the belt. This type page 159was used for everyday wear. The long type termed taoa was used on social occasions, and was decorated with overlaid plaiting in colour and the ends with fringes of finely split bast. The old one that I saw was 22 feet 5 inches long, 10.5 inches wide in the middle, and 14.5 inches at the ends. After being passed between the legs, it was wound around the waist.

The skirt in atolls was made of shredded coconut leaflets which hung down from a braided waist band. This was the everyday garment. An alternate form was plaited from pandanus leaves to form a kilt or short skirt and was used on social occasions.

As protection for the body against the cool of the evening, a piece of bark cloth was wrapped around the shoulders and in central Polynesia, this developed after the Maori ancestors left into a poncho-like garment termed a tiputa in which a hole (puta) was made for the head so that the rectangular piece of cloth hung down from the neck to cover the front and the back of the body. In atolls, a cape was plaited with coconut leaflets and well-made specimens from Tongareva (Penrhyn) collected by the Wilkes Expedition are preserved in the United States National Museum at Washington.

Early New Zealand Garments

The early settlers undoubtedly knew the loincloth and the skirt but the first two waves which arrived in New Zealand were faced with the same problem as the atoll islanders with regard to raw material for they did not bring the paper mulberry plant with them. However, they found a substitute material in the indigenous flax and their knowledge of plaiting would readily enable them to plait a long band as a loincloth for men and a form of kilt or mat to serve as a skirt for women.

Evidence in favour of the early existence of the plaited loincloth is provided by the Chatham Islands. Skinner (71, p. 110) quotes early European visitors as mentioning a small mat which the Morioris passed under the crutch and attached in front and behind to a belt. This corresponds to the short type of maro used by the Manihiki people for everyday wear. A long maro termed a marowhara is mentioned in Moriori legends and any doubt as to its technique is dispelled by an actual specimen in the Dominion Museum which has been described by Roger Duff (31, p. 213). This maro is made of scraped but unscutched flax by plaiting in check. It is 16 feet 10.5 inches long but rather narrow with a maximum width of 5¾ inches. It is decorated, as seen from the illustration (Pl. VIII), with narrow longitudinal bands of colour by a form of overlaid plaiting and the ends are decorated with tufts of feathers. It was worn by men of rank or going to war and thus marked social distinction like the long maro of Manihiki. Both are characterized by fine plaiting, overlaid colour decoration, and fringed ends albeit the Moriori maro was fringed at the ends with feathers instead of fine strips of bark.

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Further interesting information is recorded by Duff (31, p. 214) regarding a fragment of fine plaiting excavated from a rock shelter in the South Island and now in the Otago Museum. The specimen is decorated by overlaying a darker strip of material over the foundation wefts in a technique similar to that of the Moriori marowhara. From its fine plaiting, Duff concludes that the fragment was part of a maro and suggests the presence of the plaited maro in the South Island within a century or two ago.

If we accept the theory that the Moriori were a branch of the earliest settlers of New Zealand who found their way to the Chatham Islands before the coming of the Fleet, we may assume that through isolation, they continued to plait a form of loincloth which was in vogue in New Zealand before they left. The presence also of the plaited maro in the southern part of the South Island indicates that a similar technique was preserved in a part of New Zealand which was fairly remote from the centre of development in the North Island. However, the retention of the archaic plaiting technique appears to have been confined to the loincloth for some rain capes in the Otago Museum (91, p. 192), obtained from a cave in central Otago, indicate clearly that the makers were acquainted with the single-pair twine that formed part of the later development of weaving.

The early technique of the female skirt or its equivalent is a matter for speculation. Information from the Moriori is scanty but Hunt, quoted by Skinner (71, p. 109), stated that "In addition, the females girded their loins with a band of plaited flax." As throughout Polynesia women did not wear the maro, it may be assumed that the Moriori women observed the same convention. Hence the plaited band of flax may have been a short skirt. It was easy enough for the early settlers in New Zealand to have arrived independently at the atoll technique of plaiting a band of sufficient depth for concealment and then allowing the weft ends to hang down free. In fact, the modern dance kilt (piupiu) might well have been derived from such a prototype. In these, the plaited part has been replaced by weaving and the pendent free weft ends, through being lightly scraped and subjected to heat, were curled into cylindrical rolls (91, p. 47).

The Rain Cape

Protection against cold and wet demanded as much attention as the protection of modesty. The idea of a wrap or a cape for the shoulders needed amplification in the colder climate of the new land. That the need was met is supported by Turaukawa (81, p. 70) who states that the garment of the first settlers was a pake, which he describes as a rough rain cape of kiekie or flax worn by women and men alike. The pake, as we know it, is the roughest type of rain cape with an outer thatch of overlapping page 161free ends to shed the rain. The body, however, is formed of roughly dressed flax by using a single-pair twined weft. It is probable that Turaukawa used the term pake because it was the poorest type of cape that he knew of but the use of the term cannot be accepted as evidence that the type of rain cape made by the first settlers was made by the same technique as the pake of later development. It is probable, therefore, that the early rain capes were made of undressed flax by the current technique of plaiting. Here again, we have supporting evidence from the isolated Moriori who, according to early visitors to the Chatham Islands, wore shoulder mats made of flax with the ends hanging down on the outer side to shed the rain. No indication is given as to technique but fortunately a rain cape in the Canterbury Museum was identified from the Museum records as probably Moriori. From the description and photographs sent to me by Roger Duff, the cape shows a more primitive technique than any of the known types of Maori rain capes. Instead of being woven with a body of dressed flax fibre, it is plaited in twilled-twos with wefts of unscutched flax. It is 41 inches wide and 34 inches long. There are five joins in the plaited body and it appears as if the old wefts were turned down in a form of floor mat join with the free ends long enough to overlap the join below. Thus an overlapping thatch was provided on the outer surface of the cape (Pl. IX). This form of plaited rain cape could well conform to the original type of rain cape referred to by Turaukawa as the pake of the early settlers.

Thus the available information indicates that the early settlers retained the two essential garments of Polynesia in the male loincloth (maro) and the female skirt while they amplified the wrap or cape by adding an outside thatch to shed the rain. The techniques were adjusted to flax material and the craft used was plaiting.

The Introduction of Bark Cloth

The settlers of the Fleet period brought the paper mulberry plant with the central Polynesian name of aute which was applied to both the plant and the cloth made from it. Its growth, however, was restricted by climatic conditions to the northern part of the North Island. On the east coast, it was cultivated as far south as Hawkes Bay and the place name of Te Aute is said to commemorate an unsuccessful attempt to grow the plant in that locality. It was actually manufactured into cloth for loincloths as traditional references mention the maro aute. It was also used for kites (manu aute), ear ornaments (whakakai) and other minor objects. Tradition is supported by the discovery of two four-sided beaters with longitudinal grooves which were dredged up from under seven feet of gravel in the Whangarei Harbour (91, p. 10). These valuable artifacts were made of local wood and are now preserved in the Auckland Museum (Fig. 25).

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Tradition states that experiments were tried with local plants such as the houhi (Houheria populnea) but no satisfactory substitute was found.

However, the supply of bark cloth was not only limited in quantity and distribution but the material proved unsatisfactory in the more rigorous climate of New Zealand. The settlers of the Fleet were forced to abandon their introduced paper mulberry as an adequate source for clothing material. They followed the example of their predecessors in using flax and at first they probably made their garments by the process of plaiting. Any continued manufacture of bark cloth in the north was a matter of sentiment rather than utility. Some specimens of bark cloth collected by early navigators and attributed to New Zealand, have been labelled inaccurately, for some that I saw at the British Museum bore the
Fig. 25. Maori tapa beaters (Auckland Mus.)

Fig. 25. Maori tapa beaters (Auckland Mus.)

obvious coloured designs of Hawaii. How long the plaiting technique was continued, it is impossible to tell. Certain it is that the attention devoted to flax resulted in local developments which changed the clothing technique from plaiting to a form of weaving.

The Change in Technique

Textiles made from flax by plaiting were somewhat stiff and rough and not the best form of garment for wearing next to the skin. The early settlers tried to make the loincloths softer and more pliable by scraping the flax on both surfaces and splitting it into narrower wefts.

In scraping flax with a shell, the early settlers found that the leaves were rich in strong fibres which by extra scraping could be freed for making fishing lines, nets, and cordage. It was found that a greater abundance of fibre was in the upper half layer of the leaves. To avoid the tedious task of scraping away the lower half of the blades, a method was devised for lightening labour. The side edges and the midrib were split off and discarded and a half blade with the lower surface uppermost was doubled over the left forefinger at a point towards the butt end. While held taut with the left hand, a transverse incision was made across the page 163half blade to roughly half its thickness. The flax was straightened out, a shell scraper applied to the surface under the incision, and by exerting pressure from the incision outwards towards the tip end, the part of the leaf which was cut through peeled off in a continuous layer. The butt end of the leaf was treated similarly. The peeled off portion consisting of the true under surface and layer with little fibre was discarded. The retained strip which was the full length of the leaf, consisted of the true upper surface and the layer beneath it which contained most of the fibre. To clear the fibre, the upper strip was further scraped to remove the upper epidermis and the interfibrous material and it is this process of extra scraping to clear the fibre that is termed scutching.

In the process of preparing flax fibre, the early settlers became acquainted with the fact that the stiffer under layer of the flax leaves could be split off and it must have been obvious that the unscutched upper layer could be split into narrow wefts to form softer and more pliable garments by the prevailing technique of plaiting. The unscutched upper layer is soft and fibrous and any unremoved epidermis turns a distinct yellow in colour. Fragments of fine plaiting have been discovered in addition to that described by Duff, in which the fibrous wefts contained a good deal of yellow epidermis. It is thus possible that they are relics of an older technique in which the split, unscutched upper layer was actually plaited into garments such as the loincloth maro. However, at some period down the path of technical development, the early craftsmen abandoned plaiting as the orthodox technique for manufacturing clothing.

It may be reasonably assumed that the change in technique was due to the change in the nature of the material used. Plaiting with narrow wefts is rendered more difficult through the free ends being more liable to become tangled than wider wefts. If the wefts are soft and fibrous, the difficulty is increased. The Samoans solved the difficulty in making fine mats of the upper layer of pandanus leaf and shaggy garments of bark fibre by plaiting a short section and then tying the free ends of the sinistrals together with a slip knot termed fausa and doing the same with the corresponding dextrals (95, p. 270, Fig. 155). Thus the two sets were kept distinct and when the plaiting came round, the knots were loosened for the short sections which could be controlled. By means of the fausa technique, the Samoans were able to lessen the problem of entanglement and so retain the technique of plaiting in making two types of clothing.

The Maori must also have encountered the problem of entanglement when or if they used the unscutched upper layer of flax and even more so when they began to use scutched flax fibre as material for better garments. If, as I believe, they used plaiting at first they showed remark-page 164able originality in solving the problem of entanglement by adopting the entirely different technique of single-pair twining.

Single-Pair Twining

The single-pair twine was used throughout Polynesia and in New Zealand in making fish traps. Whenever available, the material used was the aerial roots of the local Freycinetia (kiekie or 'ie'ie) but other roots or vines were also used. Containers of various kinds were also made with the single-pair twine.

In making traps, the vertical or longitudinal lengths of single vines were fixed in position by a pair of vines being twined around each single vine or rod, a half turn being made so that the front and back vines of the twining pair changed position on each rod. On completing the circuit of the rods, the twine was not made to meet the commencement end to form a hoop but was diverged so as to continue a spiral course with an equal interspace between the rows of twining. This technique with stiff material comes under the general category of basketry.

The single-pair twine was used in close rows to form more compact objects. In Hawaii, a close single-pair twine with 'ie'ie aerial roots was used to cover gourd and wooden vessels and to make containers of vine alone. In Tahiti, a close single-pair twine was made with two-ply coir cord to cover the wooden core of symbols representing the gods.

The application of the single-pair twine to soft, fibrous material was not present in western, northern, and eastern Polynesia. In central Polynesia, it was not used for garments in the Society Islands but in the Cook Islands it does occur as one or two rows below the waist band of bast kilts used in dancing. It also occurred sporadically in some of the Tuamotu atolls. Thus there is no evidence that single-pair twining was an established technique for making garments in central Polynesia. Therefore, it may be assumed that after experimenting with soft scutched flax fibre for clothing, the Maori independently adopted the single-pair twine of fish traps to avoid the disadvantages involved in plaiting. However, in applying the single-pair twine of stiff material in circular objects to soft material on a flat surface, the general technique changed from basketry to downward weaving (Fig. 26).

Downward Weaving

In the process which developed, a vertical set of threads is crossed at right angles by a single-pair twine in spaced rows from above downward. Though the technique resembles basketry in the use of a spaced twine, it resembles weaving still more. The vertical threads, therefore, may be termed warps and the elements crossing them, the weft. As the weft works downward, the process may be appropriately termed downward page 165weaving and as the fingers manipulate the weft pair around each warp, it may also be termed finger weaving. Thus the use of the terms downward weaving or finger weaving prevents confusion with the more widely used technique of loom weaving.

In practice, a set of warps is set up by doubling a long weft thread around the upper end of the first warp, making a half turn to enclose it, and adding successive warps with a half turn of the two weft threads in the single-pair twined technique (Fig. 26a). When the weft row reaches the required width of the garment, the two weft threads are tied around the last warp with a reef knot. Separate threads are tied to the two ends of the weft row, the row is drawn taut, and the ends tied to the upper ends of two sticks stuck in the ground. The warps thus hang down
Fig. 26. Single-pair twining.a, commencement; b, attached to weaving sticks.

Fig. 26. Single-pair twining.
a, commencement; b, attached to weaving sticks.

vertically and a second weft row is commenced on the left, a little distance below the first weft row. The second row is worked across to the right edge in a manner similar to the first and subsequent rows are added in the same way (Fig. 26b). The space between the weft rows varies with the type of garment but the same interspace is maintained throughout in individual garments. When the weaving approaches ground level, the lowest weft row is raised and hitched to the upper ends of the sticks. Some weavers use a second pair of sticks to which the lowest row is raised. Successive weft rows are added until the depth of the garment is attained.

There can be little doubt that the first garments made with the single-pair twine were rain capes with outer overlapping tags of flax to shed the rain like a shingled roof. In weaving, the outer surface of the garment is towards the weaver in order that the tags may be applied to the warps as the work proceeds. The garments are also woven upside down so that the first or top weft row becomes the bottom row when the completed garment is worn. The reversed position in weaving serves two important purposes. First, the long ends of the tags are directed upwards so that page 166they do not interfere with the twining of the weft row below. Secondly, the warp ends are left long, after the last weft row and these ends are plaited in a thick three-ply braid to serve as a finished neck border. When the completed cape is reversed for wear, the rain tags hang downwards in overlapping rows to form a complete thatch.

The Maori term for weaving is whatu which distinguishes it from plaiting which is termed raranga. The warps are termed whenu and the weft, aho. The single-pair weft is termed aho patahi and weaving with the aho patahi is consequently whatu aho patahi. The neck of a garment is the ua, the lower border the remit, and the side borders the tapa. The general term for clothing is kakahu or kahu but the different types of garments have received specific names which may vary among different tribes.

Fig. 27. Tags and warps.a, pake; b, pureke; c, pota; d, hieke.

Fig. 27. Tags and warps.
a, pake; b, pureke; c, pota; d, hieke.

The rain capes which are made with the single-pair twine have developed into a number of varieties in which the formation and attachment of the rain tags indicate the process of evolution which has taken place. The simplest and coarsest is the pake or para in which the warps are formed of short lengths of coarse, poorly scutched flax. A certain length of the warps is left free or projecting to act as tags and the subsequent short lengths are added in the same way (Fig. 27a). An improvement is made in the pureke cape (Fig. 27b) in which the unscraped ends of the short warps are left out as wider tags to form better thatch cover. In the preceding two types, the warps are formed of short lengths, one end of which forms the rain tags. As long warps involve extra work and care, it would appear that the warps composed of short pieces joined together by the twining technique indicate the early stage of development.

The pota cape (Fig. 27c) shows an advance in which long complete warps were used and separate rain tags with short scraped ends were added, the scraped ends being fixed under two or more weft rows. A page 167further improvement was made in rain cloaks in which warps of scutched fibre were made the extra length to convert a cape ending at the waist into a hieke cloak extending to the heels. Tags of double length were scraped in the middle which, being caught under the weft row, formed double tags (Fig. 27d). See Plate XI.

A rough rain cape was made of kiekie leaves which were soaked in water until the interfibrous material could be easily removed by drawing the leaf through the fingers. This material was used in the para type of cape. A superior cape was made from the leaves of the Cordyline indivisa (toi) which were treated in the same way as the kiekie leaves. The cape was well made with long warps and the fibre was thick and strong. The cape was used by warriors and it was honoured by being named a kahu toi (91, Pl. 16).

A superior type of cape was thickly covered on its outer surface with long flaxen rolls which were scraped at intervals to expose the fibre which was dyed black. The flaxen rolls were prepared by the same process as the material in the dance kilts (piupiu). The cape was a social garment being devoid of rain tags. The black and white rolls gave it a decorative appearance and they could be made to rattle as the wearer moved about. The thick three-ply braid was the usual form of neck border in all capes but there were a number of variations (91, p. 184). Extra length fringes at the neck border of both capes and cloaks were termed kurupatu. The rain cloak (hieke) was the earliest form of cloak and it continued to be the most useful. It was worn or carried on expeditions or visits, for one never knew when it would rain. At night, it formed a satisfactory bed cover. The rain tags were usually dyed black and relief in decoration was obtained by spacing tags of the mountain flax (Phormium colensoi) which turn a distinct yellow in colour. The orthodox technique was the single-pair twine but the two-pair weft was used occasionally. See Plate X.

Weaving Implements

In preparing the material, a marine shell, usually mussel, is used for Scraping and scutching the flax fibre. The fibre is washed to remove any green colouring material, then dried and twisted into hanks.

Stone pounders (patu muka) were made to beat the hanks of fibre on a flat, waterworn boulder. These beaters were round in section with a rounded distal end and ground down to a convenient hand grip also rounded in section (Fig. 28). They are fairly heavy and must not be confused with fern-root beaters (paoi) which are usually made of wood.

Weaving sticks (turuturu) were in pairs and averaged from 17 to 22 inches in length. They were probably plain sticks originally but as they became part of a woman's equipment, they received more care. Some were plain with a knob at the upper end and sharpened to a point at the page 168
Fig. 28. Flax pounder (after Best, 16, vol. 2, p. 528).

Fig. 28. Flax pounder (after Best, 16, vol. 2, p. 528).

lower end for sticking into the ground. Others were elaborately carved with human heads or human figures with inlaid haliotis-shell eyes. They were interesting enough to be collected as objects of art (Fig. 29).
Both the stone pounders and the weaving sticks were local developments in New Zealand which originated with the locally developed craft
Fig. 29. Weaving sticks. a, b, d, Auckland Museum; c, e, Oldman coll. (157, 158).

Fig. 29. Weaving sticks. a, b, d, Auckland Museum; c, e, Oldman coll. (157, 158).

of downward weaving. The above were the only implements used and statements by early writers about a spinning wheel, weft shuttle, and scutching comb are nonsensical.

The Two-Pair Weft

The stimulus of making better garments for persons of social importance led to greater development in the manufacture of cloaks. A new form of weft consisting of two pairs of threads instead of one pair came into vogue as the orthodox technique for dress cloaks and the single-pair weft remained with the humbler yet always useful garments for shedding rain. The technique with the two-pair weft consists of doubling a long pair of threads around the first warp on the left to form a front and a page 169back pair. The back pair is opened out and the front pair is passed between its two threads. The two pairs are drawn taut around the warp. In crossing, the back pair is now in front. The next warp is placed between the two pairs and the process repeated around each warp from left to right, the two pairs changing position on each warp and always the back pair opening out on the right of each warp to enclose and interlock with the front pair (Fig. 30a). The rest of the body technique is similar to that with the single-pair twine, including the commencement at the bottom and the free warp ends being left long for the neck finish.

Fig. 30. a, two-pair weft technique; b-g, tags.

Fig. 30. a, two-pair weft technique; b-g, tags.

The two-pair weft is termed aho rua. I could not find any trace of its organized use in central Polynesia so it may be credited as a local invention in New Zealand.

Dress Cloaks

For the manufacture of superior garments with the two-pair interlocking weft, the fibre was well washed, beaten, and rubbed between the hands to whiten and soften the material. The long warps were prepared by rolling the appropriate thickness of fibres on the bare thigh in a single twist so that they resembled yarn. The wefts were formed of threads of unbeaten fibre.

A plain cloak (parakiri) used by commoners or for rough wear was made without any ornamentation. The better cloaks were distinguished and named from the form of ornamentation which was applied to the outer surface of the warps and fixed by the crossing weft in the process of manufacture. The decoration took the form of black cord tags, pompoms, feathers, and flaxen rolls. The method of attaching rain tags and decorative elements is shown in Figure 30b-g.

The long ends of the warps, left free after completing the last weft row, were made into neck borders of different types (91, p. 184) which departed from the thick three-ply braid of rain capes and rain cloaks.

The main classes of cloaks made with the two-pair weft and with decoration on the outer surface are as follows:

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1.Tag cloaks (korowai): decorated with short doubled lengths of closely twisted two-ply cord dyed black (Pl. XII). A variety termed karure was formed of loosely twisted black cords which appear as if the cords were unravelling. Undyed cords were also used in a garment named hima.
2.Pompom cloaks (ngore): with pompoms of dyed flax but red worsted was much preferred after trade contact.
3.Feather cloaks (kahu huruhuru): feathers from various birds were used and when the feathers from one kind of bird were mostly used, the cloak was specifically named after the bird. Thus a cloak of kiwi feathers was named kahu kiwi. The most valuable cloak was covered entirely with the red feathers from beneath the wings of the kaka parrot and from the chiefly red colour, it was named kahu kura. Various combinations in rectangular patches were made with differently coloured feathers such as the white breast feathers and the green neck feathers of the native pigeon. See Plate XIII.
4.Cloaks with flaxen rolls (waikawa): ornamented with flaxen rolls like those in dance kilts and the superior type of cape.

In post-European times, coloured worsteds were much used to form twisted cords and pompoms and to decorate panels along the side and lower borders. Many composite garments were made in which tufts of feathers, cord tags, and flaxen rolls were distributed over the same garment.

Close Single-Pair Twining

A development from spaced single-pair twining consisted of making the weft rows as close together as possible and so producing a thick, strong textile like canvas (Fig. 31). Three types of garments were made with this technique.

Fig. 31. Close single-pair twining.

Fig. 31. Close single-pair twining.

1.War cloaks (pukupuku). These were plain without any decoration and were said to give protection against spear thrusts.
2.Dogskin cloaks (kahu kuri). These were formed from the plain war cloaks by the addition of long narrow strips of dog's hide with the hairy surface external. They were sewn on in vertical strips so as to page 171completely cover the outer surface (91, pp. 53, 153). Variations in the arrangement of different coloured hair strips in vertical panels received specific names such as ihupuni, topuni, and puahi. See Plate XIV.
3.Tufted hair cloaks (mahiti). These were decorated with seized tufts of long white hair from dogs' tails.

The dogskin cloaks were highly valued as dogs were never plentiful and were the property of chiefs. They were a purely local invention and thus the story of the Aotea canoe being bought in Hawaiki for a dogskin cloak, is an interpolation. To further honour chiefly rank, the cloaks were ornamented with narrow side bands in colour and so they introduced the subject of ornamental coloured borders.

Coloured Borders

The introduction of colour into the narrow side bands of the dogskin cloaks was very simple. The bands were made by close single-pair twining like the body of the cloak but a thread dyed black or brownish red formed one of the weft pair. By the technique of single-pair twining, the coloured thread came to the front on alternate warps. By starting with the same colour in front on the first warp, the successive weft rows would have produced straight transverse lines but from the garments examined, it is evident that oblique lines were preferred. This was easily done by alternating the front colour on the first warp in each weft row (Fig. 32a). It is obvious that the coloured and the white threads of the weft had to be knotted together on the left of the first warp.

Fig. 32. Colour technique.a, half turn; b, full turn (birdcage twine).

Fig. 32. Colour technique.
a, half turn; b, full turn (birdcage twine).

An advance from coloured lines to coloured bands was easily effected by changing the half turns of the single-pair twine to full turns with the thread whose colour was to be kept in front, while the other thread remained passive at the back of the warps. Thus in making bands of colour three warps wide and commencing with black, the black thread passes in front of the first warp on the left and the white behind it. Instead, however, of making a half-turn and reversing the colours, the page 172black makes a complete turn around the white and thus passes over the front of the second warp while the passive white continues behind it The process is repeated over the third warp and we have our three blacks. The black now makes a half-turn with the white which comes to the front. The white passes over the front of the fourth warp while the now passive black passes behind it. The white makes a complete turn around the black and passes over the front of the fifth warp. It repeats the full turn and passes over the front of the sixth warp. Its quota being completed, it makes a half turn to bring the black to the front when the process is repeated for the full length of the weft row. A full turn keeps the same colour in front and a half turn changes it. Here again oblique bands were preferred to transverse or vertical bands, and the colours were moved one warp to the right in successive weft rows (Fig. 32b).

The technique of making a turn over a warp and around a passive horizontal element at the back resembles the technique used in making wire bird cages and it has been referred to as the birdcage twine. The Maori technique, however, differs in using a half turn regularly to reverse the active and passive elements to change the colour. The coloured bands may be made as wide as desired by including more warps in each colour but the technique restricts the number of colours to two.

The Coloured Taniko Border

There appears little technical doubt that the narrow two-coloured side borders of the dogskin cloaks prepared the way for the wider decorative
Fig. 33. Taniko technique.a, front; b, back; c, design.

Fig. 33. Taniko technique.
a, front; b, back; c, design.

bands in more than two colours which made taniko work the masterpiece in Maori weaving. The dogskin cloaks were restricted to two colours because there were only two threads in the weft. Some inventive genius merely added another coloured thread to the weft and carried on with the same technique except that there were now two passive elements at the back instead of one (Fig. 33a, b). Thus in using black, white, and red, the composite weft contained a thread of each colour. The colour desired in front formed the active thread and the other two merely con-page 173tinued along behind the warps. Thus when black was desired, the black made full turns around the passive white and red threads for the number of warps desired. After crossing the last warp, black passed back to join the passive threads, and red, if desired, was brought forward in the same interspace to become active. Thus black and red made a half turn to change colour. The weaver had complete control of her colours and yellow was often used to form a fourth colour. With such a composite weft, a two-ply twisted white thread was added. It remained with the passive threads throughout but now and again, it was pulled to straighten out the row. A twisted thread was used to distinguish it from the white thread used in the coloured designs. The colours were used to form geometrical patterns with oblique lines, bars, zigzag bands, triangles and lozenges as the artistic taste of the weaver devised (Fig. 33c).

Plain Cloaks with Taniko Borders

In developing geometrical designs in taniko work, the use of triangles and lozenges required more depth than the simple oblique bands in the dogskin cloak borders. Thus if a triangle forming the upper half of a lozenge took 16 weft rows, it took another 16 rows to complete the motif. Consequently the taniko borders were much wider than the narrow borders of dogskin cloaks. However, as the narrow borders in two colours had apparently become established as the correct decoration for dogskin cloaks, the taniko bands were not applied to them. The same reservation seems to have been applied to the established cloaks made with a two-pair weft. Thus the Maori craftsmen solved the difficulty by inventing a special kind of cloak on which to display taniko borders. The fibre of these cloaks was not washed or pounded, in order that the yellowish tint of the natural fibre should form a further distinction from the other types of cloaks. They were woven with the spaced two-pair weft and, as the body was plain without any attachments, the weaving commenced at the neck border instead of the bottom. The neck was thus plain without the elaborate neck finish of cloaks which were woven upside down. Narrow bands of taniko were attached to the two sides and a deeper, more elaborate band was attached to the lower border.

The plain cloaks with taniko borders divide into two classes.

1.Parawai or Kaitaka. Weaving commenced with the neck border and, when worn, the weft rows ran horizontally as in other cloaks. A variation termed huaki had double side and lower borders (Pl. XV).
2.Paepaeroa. The body was woven in horizontal weft rows according to the established technique but on completion, the first row was turned to the left to form the left border and the taniko borders were attached to the side and lower borders so formed. When worn the weft rows ran vertically instead of horizontally and hence caused confusion to writers page 174who thought that the weft rows had been woven vertically by some different technique.

Bias Wefts

Another remarkable development was the insertion of short weft rows termed aho poka during the process of weaving to form slight bulges in the parts of the cloak that fitted over the shoulders and the buttocks (91, p. 104). The cloaks were worn with the middle of the neck border over the left shoulder and the shoulder and buttock bulges or poka fitted over the corresponding protuberances of the body and brought the two side
Fig. 34. Bias wefts.

Fig. 34. Bias wefts.

edges neatly together on the right side when the outer ends of the neck border were tied over the right shoulder (Fig. 34). Without the poka bulges, the lower corners of the garment diverge considerably when worn. I heard an expert weaver say of a badly made cloak without bias wefts, "It hangs like a blanket."

The Loincloth

The loincloth (maro) of the Polynesian type preserved in the Chatham Islands appears to have been abandoned generally as a garment for ordinary wear. The early voyagers from Cook downwards do not mention seeing it in use. Yet incantations used by warriors preparing for battle contain such lines as the following:

Homai taku maro Give me my maro
Kia hurua To be girded on
Kia rawea To be fastened on
page 175

A specimen in the Auckland Museum is made of dressed flax with the two-pair weft and is triangular in shape with tags of black threads on its outer surface. Strings at the base of the triangle pass around the waist to support it and the apex is drawn back between the legs to cover the genitals. Another string ties the apex to the waist strings. A second type was formed of a front and a back triangle joined at their apices and tied at the sides. It is possible that the changed pattern superseded the long band when the change from plaiting to weaving took place. From the evidence of the incantation, it may be that the revised maro was used only in war. In everyday life, it appears to have been replaced by the kilt or skirt.

Kilts and Skirts

A number of kilts preserved in museums were made with a single-pair twine; and some, ornamented with lengths of rolled flax attached to the outer surface, are so similar to capes ornamented with similar rolled flax lengths that they appear identical at first sight. However the capes have two tying cords fastened to the neck braid some distance in from the ends whereas the kilts have the three-ply braid of the upper border continued as a free cord at one end while another cord is attached to the other end of the braid border. The tying cords thus reveal whether the garment is tied over the shoulder as a cape or around the waist as a kilt. The modern dance kilts made of rolled flax have just a few rows of single-pair twining below the waist band.

The kilts were worn by women and are the direct descendants of the original plaited kilts or skirts of the early settlers. They were also worn by men on occasion but according to the early European visitors, the men frequently dispensed with a lower garment.

It is also evident from the early accounts that cloaks were worn as skirts which reached to the heels. When so worn they were referred to generally as rapaki.


Plaited war belts (tatua kotara) have been mentioned under plaiting. Women wore belts (tu) formed of braided strands of fragrant karetu grass. Early voyagers who mentioned them have stated that bunches of fragrant grass or leaves were suspended from the belts in front.

The best belts were made of dressed fibre. A fine example in the British Museum consists of a band 6 feet 8 inches long and 18 inches wide with end cords for tying. The weaving technique is unique in that it consists of close rows formed with the two-pair weft.

Cook (25, Vol. 3, p. 454), after referring to the usual dress of two page 176pieces, one tied over the shoulders, and the other wrapped around the waist, goes on to say, "the lower garment, however, is worn by the men only upon particular occasions; but they wear a belt, to which a string is fastened, for a very singular use. The inhabitants of the South Sea islands slit up the prepuce so as to prevent it from covering the glans of the penis, but these people, on the contrary, bring the prepuce over the glans, and to prevent it from being drawn back by the contraction of the part, they de the string which hangs from their girdle, round the end of it. The glans indeed seemed to be the only part of their body which they were solicitous to conceal, for they frequently threw off all their dress but the belt and string, with the most careless indifference, but showed manifest signs of confusion, when, to gratify our curiosity, they were requested to untie the string, and never consented but with the utmost reluctance and shame."

The Evolution of Technique

The various techniques used in the manufacture of Maori clothing have been dealt with at some length to stress the fact that technical processes must be studied in detail before we can fully appreciate the affinities with other areas and, above all, realize the adaptations, changes and actual inventions which have taken place in the local development of the craft. Though the Maori craftsmen have been progressive in making improvements and developing new processes, as proved by the great variety of garments, they were also conservative in retaining old processes for specific uses. It must be borne in mind that garments for rough wear continued to be useful and it would have been inappropriate as well as a waste of time to use carefully prepared material and later techniques and decoration on such garments. Thus the rain capes for rough use and for commoners continued to be made of roughly scutched warps and coarse wefts in the single-pair twine for some time after the advent of Europeans. Other types of rain capes showed improvement in material but retained the single-pair twine. The rain cloak showed its origin as a lengthened rain cape by also retaining the single-pair twine. Though exceptions occur, the great majority of rain cloaks kept the single-pair twine because usage had made it the correct technique for that type of cloak.

The dress cloaks with tags, feathers, and other ornamentation were made with the two-pair weft which usage again rendered the correct technique for such garments. The use of the single-pair twine with a feather cloak would have been regarded not only as poor but as ignorant workmanship. Similarly, it would have been incongruous to use the wide taniko border with dogskin cloaks when their own type of border had become established. It would have been an error to add taniko borders to tag or feather cloaks, since fashion had also established a special kind of page 177cloak to bear that particular kind of decoration. It would have detracted from the value of the taniko borders if feathers and tags were attached to the plain bodies of the cloaks which had been specially designed to show off the taniko decoration. Though various anomalies were perpetrated in modern times, it is fortunate that there were old people living who remembered that their grandparents would not have countenanced them. It was the avoidance of mixing techniques that perpetuated the manufacture of the older types of capes and cloaks by their original techniques and so provided a record of the rich variety of techniques that were developed in New Zealand. Tradition is silent as to who introduced the inventions and when. However, the garments themselves tell us what did occur but to understand them, we must learn their language as expressed through the minute details of technique.

Post-European Changes

The Maoris reached the highest peak in Polynesia in the manufacture of clothing. Not only were the immediate needs for protection against cold met adequately but a high artistic sense is revealed by the decorative techniques which were developed.

The type of garment worn denoted social status. Woven garments were also a form of wealth necessary for social exchange and to provide appropriate gifts at marriages and funerals. Thus women continued to weave cloaks long after the people had abandoned them as ordinary wearing apparel in favour of European clothing. Changes in material were influenced by the tediousness of preparing the native fibre and by the availability of trade substitutes. It was a time-consuming task to prepare the flax fibre warps. Hence when traders supplied wick material in skeins to European settlers for use in making tallow candles, the Maori women seized an escape from drudgery by using wick material as readymade warps. The trade stores also supplied cotton thread for use as wefts, and coloured worsteds took the place of dyed fibre for decoration. Some conservatives, however, continued to use flax material and it was from Tira Hori in the Whanganui district that I learned the main principles of downward weaving.

With each generation, the number of expert weavers has dwindled. The supply has not been able to meet the demand and hence social obligations which were formerly discharged by a gift of cloaks have to be met with purchased articles from another culture. Those who are fortunate enough still to own flaxen cloaks may wear them at important social functions as a symbol of the past but they form but a transient cover over the European clothing which obtrudes beneath.

Though the craft may linger in a few districts, it has completely disappeared over most of New Zealand. Localities which derive an income by page 178entertaining tourists, continue to make flaxen kilts as a part of the stage wardrobe. Associated with commercial ventures, taniko bands are made as fillets for the head and waist bands for kilts but coloured worsteds or silk thread have replaced the original dyed flax. Downward weaving may be taught as a handcraft at schools to exercise the hands and the mind, but our young women must now devote so much time to learning new skills for a permanent occupation that they have little time to spare in learning, much less practising, the once important but now practically obsolete craft of downward weaving.