Episode 6 Fact 2: Raranga - Maori Weaving
Raranga is a very old art form that is practised in many parts of the world. The first Polynesian settlers brought the technique to Aoteroa, NZ and at first, Māori women used harakeke (flax) in the same way that they had used the pandanus plant in Polynesia - weaving baskets, containers and mats from the leaves. They then learned to obtain the strong fibre (muka) from the leaves by scraping the green flesh away with a sharp shell. The muka was pounded until soft, then washed and sometimes dyed. Twisted, plaited and woven, it was used to create a wide range of items, such as fishing nets and traps, footwear, cords and rope.
Various types of flax were seen as having specific uses by different iwi (tribes). For instance, ‘Maeneene’ was used by Ngāi Tūhoe to weave fine patterned mats. Ngāti Porou sought ‘Takirikau’ for making piupiu (kilts). ‘Kōhunga ’ produced muka that Ngāti Maniapoto used for their finest cloaks and Whanganui tribes chose ‘Ate’ for making eel nets and kete (baskets).
Ultimately, Raranga was not just useful - it was a way of passing on culture. Through the patterns in woven articles, stories were told and beliefs affirmed. Although European clothing replaced flax garments, weaving as an art form survived and more often than not, weavers today are considered to be taonga (precious, treasured item) as much as the items they create.