Te Puna Waiora – The distinguished weavers of Te Kāhui Whiritoi

Dec 21, 2021

The art of Māori weaving, under threat 40 years ago, is celebrating its survival against overwhelming odds in a world first exhibition, Te Puna Waiora: The Distinguished Weavers of Te Kāhui Whiritoi.

Above: Reihana Parata QSM (Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe, Ngāi Tahu) – Whānau Parata Kākahu (detail) 2020/21, muka, peacock feathers. Collection of Parata whānau.

Gathering the work produced by te kāhui whiritoi, a pantheon of Māori weavers considered to be the most accomplished of them all, Te Puna Waiora lets visitors experience the exquisite details of a range of items – cloaks, tukutuku panels, tāniko, kete, footwear, hats, necklaces and more – all made by master weavers. This exhibition is a partnership between Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū and Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, with support from Toi Māori.

“The importance of raranga within te ao Māori cannot be overstated,” says Christchurch Art Gallery curator Nathan Pōhio.

“It provides ways to understand the world. Without this knowledge and technology, many traditional customs and cultural narratives risk falling away.

“Within traditional Māori society, raranga was part of everyday existence – clothing, kete, tukutuku, pōhā, fishing nets, rope and hīnaki all contributed to the sustainability of Māori life. Today, raranga thrives, and continues to support sustainable action and engagement with the environment, remaining true to the mātauranga Māori, tikanga and kawa established at its beginning.

Te Kāhui Whiritoi means the gathering of many hands for the purpose of weaving. The group was formalised in 2006 by Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa and Toi Māori Aotearoa.

Above: Cath Brown QSM (Ngāi Tahu—Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki) – Kete Kiwi 1990s, harakeke, kiwi feathers. Collection of Liz Brown, Christchurch.

“Te Kāhui Whiritoi was formed in 2006 to acknowledge the mana and contribution to raranga of the senior master weavers of Aotearoa, who strove to save and uphold the traditions of raranga. Early masters, like Diggeress Te Kanawa, broke with tradition by sharing exclusive practices among one another beyond their own iwi or hapū.

“Te Puna Waiora is the first exhibition in the world to celebrate the great mana of Te Kāhui Whiritoi, these senior Māori weavers, and the complexity and beauty of their work,” Nathan says.

Te Puna Waiora lets visitors examine the inside and outside of garments and other items, appreciating the depth of mātauranga Māori (knowledge) in pieces that could take months or years to create.

Above: Saana Waitai Murray CNZM, QSM (Ngāti Kuri) – Poutama 1970, harakeke, wood, dowel. Private collection, Te Keti.

The exhibition showcases work by Te Kāhui Whiritoi members Cath Brown, Emily Rangitiaria Schuster, Whero o te Rangi Bailey, Te Aue Davis, Matekino Lawless, Eddie Maxwell, Saana Waitai Murray, Riria Smith, Toi Te Rito Maihi, Ranui Ngarimu, Reihana Parata, Connie Pewhairangi-Potae, Madeleine Sophie Tangohau, Mere Walker, Pareaute Nathan, Sonia Snowden and Christina Hurihia Wirihana.

A beautifully produced hardcover book to mark the exhibition, Te Puna Waiora: The Distinguished Weavers of Te Kāhui Whiritoi, is available at the Design Store in Christchurch Art Gallery and at bookstores around the country. Rich with photo illustrations, it includes essays and stories in te reo Māori and English – many told in the voices of the master weavers themselves, or their descendants.

Te Puna Waiora runs until 3 April 2022. A number of weekend weaving workshops have been scheduled during the exhibition for visitors to come and see weavers in action.