A Weaving I Will Go (Cook Islands Style)

This was originally posted in 2010 onĀ our family blog…

I have been interested in the local weaving for quite a while and decided to get my A-into-G and make some enquiries a few weeks back. I talked to my lovely friends at the laundry who pointed me to the Vainetini (womens group) and Auntie Josie. I told Auntie what I wanted to acheive and the conversation went like this:

ME: Auntie, I would like to weave a mat. Do you have any rau ara (pandanus leaves) available for sale?
JOSIE: (sideways look) Who is teaching you?
ME: I have no teacher, but I have been practicing on Nikau leaves (coconut).
JOSIE: Hmm… … … … I have some tupe (rolls) here, but why don’t you start on a placemat? Here is one, see if you can copy it.
ME: (reluctantly) OK, I can do that.
JOSIE: Then I will help get started on your mat.

So away I went and completed a few placemats, having learned about preparing the rau ara from Nanny Tav (soften it by running aver a sharp edge such as timber or a knife), and they went very well. The housekeeping girls at the hotel were impressed! Meanwhile I had come across a book written in 1927 called “Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)” by Te Rangi Hiroa, a scholar from NZ, which had in amazing detail the traditonal methods of plaiting (weaving).

So with book ‘in hand’ (on line at NZ Electronic Text Center) I made a start, and then kept on going. The picture with me in it is the completed hatu rua, a starting edge with wefts running both ways. The second picture is part way throught the second row. The third picture shows the completed raurahanga (a length of mat body), with the start of the pae (decorative border).

I took my completed raurahanga (mat body part 1) to Auntie Josie to see during a session of the Vainetini. I sweated nervously as Auntie unrolled my mat in front of all the other aunties who where there working together on a Tivaevae (patchwork quilt). Then it was discussed and examined, while I sweated away.

Auntie Josie turned to me and nodded, “you have done well, very well. The ladies are saying that you have put thew to shame, that you have done this so well and they have not bothered to do any weaving.” I was delighted, but somewhat awkward. But all was positive, and I returned the following day to start the border with Josie 1-on1. It was hard work! After 4 hours I returned home exhausted. It is hard to describe, but the pattern emerges on a diagonal, so you need to figure out which wefts to lift at each line to produce a pattern which doesn’t appear for another 10 rows. Once you get going it is fine, but challenging.

So the next step is to complete the pae border for this section, then turn it around, split the thick butt pieces into wefts and add in new wefts of rau ara to complete a new raurahanga section which will end in the opposite border.


Here are some more pictures…


3 responses to A Weaving I Will Go (Cook Islands Style)

  1. KerryCan

    This is fascinating–I’m so glad you made sure we could see it. I LOVE that you are learning from your elders and finding ways to work in the traditional manner so that the craft is not lost!

    • jennishah Post Author

      Thank you Judith. I feel genuinely humbled by your comments. There are so many traditional patterns and I am grateful that Te Rangi Hiroa documented them while they were still in regular use. It is a skillful task, and it isn’t common any longer. Today’s island weavers suffer from the same issues that many weavers do – availability of commercial products at cheaper prices and an unwillingness of the public (tourists) to pay a price that reflects the amount of time that goes into preparing the fibres then doing the weaving. We can only hope that the ‘aunties’ are able to pass the skills on to their mokopuna so that they aren’t lost.

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