The Te Awe project is part of the Auckland Museum’s Future Museum vision to improve access to it’s Tāonga Māori collection through enhancement of records and improving the physical care of precious items.

With so many varied items in the Tāonga Māori collection, the project was organised in a phased approach. The first phase of Te Awe (2013-2016) centred on the renewal of Auckland Museum's carving store, home to about 5,400 carved taonga. The second and most recent phase of Te Awe (2017-2019) focused on on more than 5,000 textiles and items woven from plant materials.

In exploring the textiles and items woven from plant materials in Auckland Museum’s collection, and as part of a Mātauranga Māori approach, the Museum partnered with Taumata Māreikura, a group made up of some of Aotearoa’s most skilled and experienced weavers.

With such a large assortment of textiles at least six  gatherings of the Taumata Māreikura were needed to look through the entire collection.

The following blog is written by Kahutoi Te Kanawa, a member of the Taumata Māreikura for Te Awe, and is now Associate Curator, Māori at Auckland Museum.

Being asked to be part of an advisory group was certainly an honour, and to work with ladies such as Matekino Lawless, Tina Wirihana, Awhina Tamarapa, Te Hemoata Henare, Dr Maureen Lander, and my own sister Rangi Te Kanawa (a qualified textile conservator) was an opportunity to learn more about our tāōnga through the stories and experiences of kairaranga, academics, researchers, curators, conservators and collections kaimahi.

Taumata Māreikura The term taumata mareikura was decided amongst the group from the very first Hui (gathering) in November 2017. This image was taken at our last gathering August 2019.

Almost two years of coming together and working with some of the Tāmaki Paenga Hira staff, which involved the Curator Māori, Māori Collections team, textile conservators, photographers, storage staff and kaiwahina that supported us.

Image credit: Taumata Māreikura. L to R: Dr Maureen Lander, Awhina Tamarapa, Kahutoi Te Kanawa, Te Hemoata Henare, Matekino Lawless (seated), Rangi Te Kanawa, Christina Wirihana

Te Whare Pora

Ko te Hineteiwaiwa te tupuna wahine nāna ngā mahi katoa e pā ana ki te whare pora, te rāranga me to whatu.

Hineteiwaiwa was the female ancestor from whom all the arts of the house of weaving originated, including plaiting and weaving.

The above phrase was accessed from one of the information documents sent to us before we would gather. Having this information along with a two day agenda was so helpful for all of us, as this would help us gather our own thoughts and knowledge we could share before we met.

Under the guidance of the Te Awe team, we were taken through the back of house storage spaces, and each time we came back for each hui, this was an opportunity for us to have our own discussions and catch ups. A lot of sharing, coming from different perspectives, but also aspiring to further research projects that could develop and formulate even stronger relationships with whānau, hapu and iwi, not to mention practitioners and knowledge holders.

Matekino Lawless would discuss with us how she felt as a child learning the art of weaving and watching her tupuna. Observing and applying her skills, but most importantly understanding the respect for the materials used.

We would compare and contrast different terminology, techniques and stories of our kairaranga who have left us with knowledge and skills, we are fortunate enough to remember and decipher when working with the textiles tāonga.

What became more evident, as we had the privilege to view such exquisite pieces of work, was the intensity of refined weaving techniques.

Between the Te Awe team and our selves, the conversations and dialogue of discovery became ephemeral moments of history, locked and bound in the strands of these tāonga.

Image credit: L to R: Christina Wirihana, Rangi Te Kanawa, Awhina Tamarapa and Chanel Clarke (Curator Maori) checking the poka (shaping) of a cloak

What was more prevalent for the Taumata Māreikura group, was a new appreciation of the Te Awe team, and what their jobs involved. As kairaranga and advisors, we recognised  how much care, detailed information, packing and storage was needed for each tāonga we viewed. Together we would learn more about our past histories through these tāonga. It would take a team of dedicated kaimahi to co-ordinate and work in with the kairaranga. We became more aware as each of us had developed more enquiry, it would mean further research needed to be done. The responsibilities and the importance of the advice and detailed information would go down in history.

Our positions as kairaranga, researchers, academics and a conservator, meant that we needed to deliberate more amongst ourselves to come to a consensus on particular tāonga. At times we were left with more questions than answers, bearing in mind that some iwi and hapu used different materials and techniques.

Maybe with new technology, the next generations of kairaranga, curators, collection technicians, conservators, storage and management staff will develop a new method of measures, to archive, store and conserve our tāonga for future generations.

Image credit: Awhina Tamarapa carefully inspecting a Kahukiri (Dog skin cloak) to see how the skin was attached to the muka backing. 

Taumata Māreikura with the Auckland Museum Te Awe project team

Rangi Te Kanawa, Christina Wirihana and Awhina Tamarapa looking closely at kete whakairo

Blog Te Awe and the Taumata Māreikura by Kahutoi Te Kanawa, a member of the Taumata Māreikura, and now Associate Curator, Māori at Auckland Museum. Published 16 June 2020. 

All photographs by Awhina Tamarapa