‘He Taonga Tuku Iho’: Traditional Fibre & Dyeing – Raranga Wananga, Toihoukura.
In the days of our ancestors, traditional resources & practices were a way of life. Not only were they practical to clothe, feed, shelter & sustain our people, they were practices that maintained an artistic element. A means of communication, documentation, progression, development, survival. Everything is connected, everything is for a purpose. It has meaning, beauty, necessity, nothing is wasted, everything is utilised to provide & create. Precious resources that are sadly today becoming depleted. If not for Wananga (workshop) & learning such as these, our traditions would be lost for ever.
Christina Wirihana is a Master Weaver as is her mother & generations before her. She is also a principal tutor at Toihoukura & she coordinated this Wananga along with Glenda Hape, another Maori artist who specialises in paper making. It’s an amazing privilege to learn & work alongside artists such as these. ‘He Taonga Tuku Iho’ (a gift passed down) – the sharing of knowledge is priceless.
Throughout the week that the Wananga ran, I juggled my time back & forth between my painting & other classes. This meant i could only participate in the mornings. It was important for me however to get a better understanding of the basics to Raranga (weaving) as I have had a little experience with it since studying at Toihoukura, in particular, traditional dying as I love making Turapa (a woven panel).
We started by learning about the several different native plants & trees that are used in traditional dying. How each one has a different purpose in the process, where to find them & how to cure & prepare them. Some are for making a Waewae (mordant) that helps the fibre to absorb the pigment of the dyes & others that make the different colored dyes – reds, browns, yellows, orange, purples, blacks all different tones & vibrancy.
The fibre we were working with is the most versatile & commonly used to weave, ‘Harakeke’ (flax). We were shown how to extract the muka from within the ‘whenu’ (blade of flax) using mussel shells. This fine fibre is used to create the most delicate of Korowai (cloaks), Kakahu (clothes) & Kete (baskets). Although as strong as the ‘whenu’ itself, the whenu of the Harakeke or other types of flax such as ‘Kiekie’ or ‘Pingao’ are more robust.
We also prepared a traditional ‘Kumete’ (vessel) that was used for boiling the dyes along with ‘Kohatu’ (stone/volcanic rocks in particular). This was a fairly tricky & labour intensive process – as is most of our traditions, another reason they are so precious & valued. This all takes place before the Raranga (weaving) even begins & the finished product is ready for use.
Christina made a comment that will forever stick with me – “When you see the process, it allows you to understand & appreciate the hard work that goes into making these items “. These items she refers to are Korowai, Kakahu, Kete mentioned above & the ‘Piupiu’ (a traditional skirt worn commonly now days in Kapahaka (performing arts).
It doesn’t end there though, that’s the beauty….the dye can also be used on different types of papers & materials as a painting, drawing & coloring medium. All the left over Harakeke (after extracting the Muka) is mulched down into a pulp to make paper. Like I said – Nothing is wasted! That is why this is such a precious resource, skill, art form & tradition.
We also looked at other pigments such as ‘Paru’ (rare black mud), a variety of ‘Kokowai’ (crushed rock) & mixed them with a clear painting medium. It was so much fun, especially when my art practice is involved more with painting & drawing. My love & appreciation for the art of Raranga (weaving) & all its forms is a new-found passion. I haven’t picked it up as a single medium or ‘main’ medium as to be honest, i lack the patients. All though, my heart is there so its wonderful that I’m able to merge it in this way with my practiced medium.
It was an amazing week full of creativity, hard work & a greater understanding of this beautiful tradition. Truly blessed – an extremely humbling experience : ) I will follow on with this..it’s sparking inspiration as we speak!
‘E kimi ana i nga kawai i toro ki tawhiti’
‘Seeking the shoots that stretch far out’.
Ka kite ano,