October 2018 saw a group of kairaranga come together at Arahura Marae, Hokitika to wānanga on raranga elements of Te Rā the Māori sail.
Te Rā, is the sole remaining Māori customary sail, possibly collected by James Cook (1769-1771) and held in storage in the British Museum. The study Whakarahia anō te ra kaihau! – Raise up again the billowing sail! Revitalising cultural knowledge through analysis of Te Rā is a Marsden research project, funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand and based at the University of Otago.
The project aims to revitalise cultural knowledge contained in Te Rā using a interdisciplinary approach and a diverse range of methods including Kaupapa Māori research approaches, DNA analysis and microscopy. The collaborative research team are Ranui Ngarimu, Donna Campbell, Jeanette Wikaira and Catherine Smith.
As part of the project raranga wānanga and hui are being conducted with Māori weavers.
The first wānanga in a series over the course of the three year project saw kairaranga, Donna Campbell, Aroha Mitchell, Ranui Ngarimu, Patti-Anne Oberst, Te Atiwei Ririnui, Ngaio Tuari carry out visual analysis in order to reproduce key fascinating aspects of Te Rā.
The aim was to work collaboratively. With kairaranga bringing together their combined expertise to begin to decipher the intricate patterning on Te Rā and the complex hono/hiki elements. Throughout the wānanga the raranga processes were documented in order to share the findings with kairaranga around the motu through dissemination hui once the research project is complete. A significant aim of this project is to share all of the findings of the overall project in order for kairaranga to one day recreate Te Rā.
Some comments from the group:
“For me the hui was a wonderful time set aside to work solely on this taonga, in the process we are learning about our tūpuna and about ourselves.” Donna Campbell
“I feel very honored to be a part of this wānanga as the mahi we are doing is so intricate and the expertise of our tupuna is mind-blowing.” Ngaio Tuari
“There are no words that can describe the design and attention to such a functional taonga. They way they did the hono to make the sail stronger … I feel very humble to be here and a part of this wonderful work.” Patty-Anne Oberst.
“You need to have clear understanding of the basics before undertaking the visual research this project involves. There’s a lot to take in, a lot of layers of different techniques, patterning, transitions that one needs to understand. It all comes down the construction of the ara and how you maintain and follow through with that. Through doing comes understanding.” Te Atiwei Ririnui.
“The complexity of the techniques used in this taonga just shows the level of understanding and skill that our tūpuna had. They were just amazing.” Aroha Mitchell.
Donna, Ranui, Catherine and Hokimate Harwood will travel to the British Museum in January 2019 to compare the tauira panels created in this wānanga, and to conduct plant and feather identification procedures.’
We would like to thank Francois Tumahai, Chairperson of Arahura Marae for permission to use the photographs for this article.