In Aotearoa New Zealand, fibre or textile arts were the products of women. Made from a variety of indigenous flax species (muka), cloaks could be left plain or woven with additional flax tassels, dog skin/fur, or bird feathers, while others were given tāniko (decorative) borders. Creating such cloaks was a slow process, taking between one to two years to produce a finished cloak.
As the children of Tāne, god of the forest, birds act as intermediaries between the sacred realm of gods (atua) and the human world. Although many held a special place in Māori ritual life, they also served as important sources of food.
Accounts of feather cloaks (kahu huruhuru) are sparse during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. They appear to have grown in popularity during the mid-nineteenth century, eventually becoming the most sought after of Māori cloaks. Worn by men and women, feathers from a variety of birds were used to decorate prestigious finger-woven cloaks. Characteristics or traits that humans associated with individual birds were understood to be embodied within the cloaks. For instance, a cloak decorated with red kākā (parrot) feathers would allude to the oratory skills of both the bird and the wearer.
Known as te manu huna a Tāne, the hidden bird of Tāne on account of their elusive and nocturnal nature, kiwi birds were prized in Māori society for their feathers and as a food source for high ranking people. Cloaks decorated with kiwi feathers (kahu kiwi) were the most prestigious cloaks and they visually indicated the status of the wearer.
Although often referred to as woven, Māori weavers did not use a loom. Rather, cloaks were created using a technique described as finger-weaving in which a foundation of vertical warps was suspended between a pair of weaving sticks and the wefts were twined across them working from left to right. Cloaks could be made as single-pair twinning (where the weft contains two pairs of thread) or double-pair twinning (where the weft has four pairs of thread). The weaver worked from the bottom of the cloak up, starting the process by creating the lower edge of the cloak and working downwards towards the top. Feathers were added in singly or in small bunches as part of the weaving process, woven into the weft in bands across the face of the cloak at regular intervals (every second or third row). They were woven in such a way as to make the feathers lie flat along the cloak.


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