by Mick Pendergrast
Published by David Bateman Ltd, 1997, 32 pp, soft cover
The weaving of Maori cloaks is an artform almost lost in New Zealand. Very few people are still making traditional cloaks today, which is unfortunate as these cloaks are one of the most impressive pieces of Maori clothing ever made.
The few remaining ancient kakahu ( also commonly called "korowai") are mostly to be found safely stored in New Zealand museums. Any in private hands are quickly snapped up, as evidenced by a 2006 art auction in Auckland, New Zealand, where a 19th century Kiwi feather cloak sold for NZ$123750.
Mick Pendergrast is an ethnologist at Auckland Museum, and his concise and interesting book details the history of Maori cloaks, the weaving techniques, and the different types of cloaks - kahu kuri (flax fibre and dog skin), pukupuku ( woven flax cloak), kaitaka (shiny golden flax cloak), korowai ( flax cloak with long flax cords, also called karure or ngore), kahu huruhuru ( feathered cloak).
Kahu huruhuru only seemed to emerge as an artform in the second half of the 19th century, and early examples were often covered in kiwi feathers. These have since become highly prestigious garments. A range of other bird feathers were used, both native and introduced.
Today, feathered cloaks are still made, and in the traditional manner, by hand. Four separate threads are involved, as well as a technique to weave in the feathers by hand, so it is not surprising that the technique takes years of practise to perfect, and an average size cloak may take a year to make.
The book is enhanced by excellent photos and weaving diagrams, and is a great reference guide to this ancient and almost forgotten Maori craft.