SIT Students learn the art of traditional weaving
Publish Date: Tuesday, 25 June 2024
SIT Students learn the art of traditional weaving
SIT student, Rangiputa Wallace, and her tamariki (children), Wiremu (left) and Pōhutukawa, with her finished pihepihe (cloak), at the May 11th exhibit at SIT’s centre for creative industries Te Rau o te Huia.
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Southern Institute of Technology and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa ākonga (students) of Kawai Raupapa: Certificate in Māori and Indigenous Art have been on a rewarding journey in learning the traditional skill of Māori weaving, and now the fruits of their labour are being exhibited as pieces of art.    

The 12-month course involved 17 ākonga from SIT Invercargill and Queenstown campuses, who learned every stage of the process in making customary Māori kākahu (cloaks) from harakeke (flax). From identifying different varieties and which were best for weaving, harvesting and processing, to weaving and making the garments. 

Anahera Mills, SIT Kaiwhakahaere Ako - Education Delivery Manager, emphasised how fortunate they had been to have distinguished weaver, Rokahurihia Ngarimu-Cameron (Nanny Roka to the learners) sharing her significant knowledge on the programme.

Mrs Ngarimu-Cameron said she was convinced out of retirement to tutor the programme by her mokopuna. “The granddaughters asked me to come and help,” so the bonus was spending time with her family during the year. Mrs Ngarimu-Cameron is “very, very proud” of those involved, how hard they worked and what they achieved over the 12 months. “They’ve wanted to learn, they’ve been brilliant students and applied themselves to complete their tāonga (treasure),” she said. 

“It’s quite a commitment; there were hours and hours of work. I think they were quite moved by the amount of work in preparation.” A certain variety of flax is required for its quality of fibre; they travelled to as far away as Dunedin to find the particular cultivar, some of which Mrs Ngarimu-Cameron had planted herself years ago.

The group grew close over the course of the programme and supported each other. “We weathered the ups and downs of the year together; we rowed our waka together,” Mrs Ngarimu-Cameron said, adding “it’s been a beautiful journey.”          

The classes produced several styles of kākahu including pihepihe and rāpaki: the pihepihe, described as a smaller, contemporary garment, “is like a shawl, it’s more feminine, more decorative and for special occasions,” Ms Mills explained. The rāpaki was traditionally a rain cape. “It’s not an everyday garment, it’s more masculine and can be worn for special occasions, such as graduations, wedding, and funerals.” Some ākonga chose to dye the flax fibre and adorned their garments with feathers, shells and driftwood. 

Ms Mills commented on the high-quality work being produced. “It’s a level 4 course [but] they’re producing level 5 or 6 work in their garments,” adding she had received a lot of positive feedback about the exhibition, already attributing new enrolments for the next programme from it. “I encourage people to try something new,” said Ms Mills, she would like to see harakeke weaving become more widespread as a sustainable art form.  

The exhibition brochure designed by graphic designer and ākonga on the programme, Melissa Hinves, highlights Te Haerenga, ‘the journey’ the learners  collectively and individually engaged in. Common themes such as family, heritage, generational ties, and beliefs, are explained; how they’re represented and artistically woven into each garment shows each weaver’s story is personal and unique, and was a labour of love. 

Ms Hinves incorporated her Lancashire upbringing by weaving the county’s symbol - a red rose - into her pihepihe. “My mum’s family were weavers in the Blackburn Mills in Lancashire in the UK ... but it wasn’t until midway on my raranga (weaving) journey, that the weaving link resonated with me,” she said. "I can't begin to describe the breadth of what I have learnt, it is vast, but I know that we have been gifted mātauranga (knowledge) that is a true tāonga. ...the aroha (love) and whānaungatanga (kinship) shared has been truly humbling."

The students held a one-day exhibit at SIT’s centre for creative industries, Te Rau o te Huia, on May 11th; the garments were then taken to Queenstown and the public can view the ākonga-made kākahu until 28th July, in Te Atamira Gallery, located below SIT Queenstown campus at Dart House, 12 Hawthorne Drive, Remarkables Park Town Centre, Frankton.