Kete Kōrero: Aitutaki Weavers
In October 1992, under the leadership of Emily Schuster and Cath Brown and with Reverand Rua Anderson as their tohunga (spiritual leader), twenty-five members of Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa travelled to Aitutaki, one of the Cook Islands in the Pacific. Hosted in various churches and villages, they spent five days with local weavers and learned to gather, prepare, and weave pandanus, coconut palm, and rito. To mark this time together, the Aitutaki weavers gifted two pandanus kete to Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, and these were received by the chair, Emily Schuster.
This trip was a valuable opportunity to develop closer relationships with another indigenous weaving group in the Pacific, which has been a priority for Māori weavers since their involvement in the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FESTPAC).
Aitutaki Weavers at the Moananui-a-Kiwa Weavers Symposium, Te Ngira marae, Papakura, 1993. Photograph by Margaret Kawharu.
First staged in Fiji in 1972 and hosted by different countries in Moananui-a-Kiwa every four years, FESTPAC was conceived to celebrate the indigenous peoples of the Pacific and counteract the erosion of ancestral knowledge through ongoing cultural exchange. After the establishment of Te Aotearoa Moananui-a-Kiwa Weavers in 1983 (now Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa), Māori weaving delegates have attended FESTPAC since the fourth 1984 Festival in Tahiti. Reporting on the fifth 1988 Festival in the Weavers Newslettter, Māori weavers announced that high priority was to be given to cultural exchanges with indigenous weaving communities of the Pacific, leading to events such as their weaving expedition to Aitutaki.
These expeditions culminated in Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa hosting a weaving symposium for indigenous weavers of the Pacific in March 1993, five months after their trip to Aitutaki. More than fifty expert weavers from across the Pacific, including the Aitutaki weavers, gathered at ‘Te Ngira’ Marae o Papakura in Auckland to engage in workshops, lectures, and weaving demonstrations.
The first of its kind, the Indigenous Weavers Symposium fulfilled the desire of Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa to provide a forum for cultural exchange specific to weaving in the Pacific, to share knowledge, develop new skills, cultivate relationships, collectively experience different weaving customs, and weave common threads.
Written by Lily Kara-Liu (Waikato-Tainui, Ngāpuhi). 10 Feb 2023.