Interwoven

Weaving groups weave people togeher

Weaving groups weave people togeher

Claudette and Fiona weaving kete to bury koiwi (recovered remains) at Tolaga Bay.
Sister Act: The Collis sisters (from left) Michelle, Claudette and Fiona weaving a whāriki at Hauiti Marae. Picture supplied
‘Pounga’ by Claudette.
‘Te Ta Kotuku’ by Fiona.
Nan, Madeleine Tangohau, looking over piupiu strands at Rotoiti.
Madeleine Tangohau, ‘Nan’ (left), weaving harakeke (flax).
(From left) ‘Kakano’ by Fiona, ‘Awhi The Embrace’ by Michelle and Claudette, and ‘Tuhiwai’ by Claudette.
‘Te aho mutunga kore’ by Fiona, inspired by ‘The Eternal Thread’ exhibition.
‘Marama i te po’ by Claudette.
Poi piu ‘Nga kai haka wāhine o Hingangaroa’ by Michelle.
Collis Sisters - Claudette Collis (Raranga Waituhi), Michelle Kerr (Nga Kaihaka 0 Hingangaroa), Fiona Collis (Mai te ao pouri ki te ao marama)

He uri mātou no Te Whānau a Apanui, no Te Aitanga a Hauiti, no Ngai Tūhoe, no Ngāti Raukawa.

I tipu ake mātou ki roto o Ūawa ki Arataha te kainga o āku tipuna.

Ko Tītīrangi te maunga.

Ko Ūawanui-a-Ruamatua te awa. Ko Te Aitanga a Hauiti te iwi.

Ko Michelle rātou ko Claudette ko Fiona tenei e mihi atu nei.

I had a lesson in rāranga (weaving) the other day from three kaiwhatu (gurus) of the art-form, the Collis sisters Michelle, Claudette and Fiona . . . and the te reo Māori vocabulary that pertains to this time-honoured practice.

The sisters grew up at “Arataha,” their grandparents’ farm on Tauwhareparae Road, Tolaga Bay in an extended family, three generations in fact.

“We lived with our Pāpā, Titi Tangohau, Nan, Madeleine Tangohau (nee Stirling), mother, Te Rangi Rangi, and Uncle Paki,” says Michelle the eldest of the siblings.

“Weaving was a passion of our Nan’s and we were always at her feet when she was cleaning the harakeke (flax) and weaving. It was part of our lives and like many Nans of that time, she lovingly taught us how to make a variety of shapes such as stars and insects from harakeke. She turned them into hanging mobiles that were dotted around the farm.

“When our cousins came home for the holidays, Nan would teach them too. She made a conscientious effort to teach all her mokopuna how to weave from a very young age.”

The first things the sisters learned to make were rourou (food baskets), whiri kete (kete with a plaited base) and papa (placemats) for the tēpu (table).

The girls describe their Nan as a practical weaver.

“Living through the Depression, she used her weaving skills to make the things she needed, as did many.

“Our Nan wove rourou, big and small for storing kai in. When we harvested potatoes and kumara they were sorted in large kumara kete (kete with holes for ventilation) and placed in the rua (earth pit) on and under layers of mānuka bracken to discourage the rats,” says Michelle.

Basic weaving skills

Fiona says their grandmother was active in the community, teaching basic weaving skills.

“Every now and then we are approached by people who knew our Nan. They talk about the time she taught them to make a rourou or kete, so I guess her legacy of sharing these skills lives on in our generation.”

When they reached their 20s, the girls became Nan’s drivers.

“We would drive her around to marae to wānanga to learn other weaving skills. We had already learned how to make a variation of kete (baskets)and potae (hats).

“Many invitations were sent to Nan to attend weaving wānanga (seminars) in Rotoiti hosted by Tina Wirihana and her mother Whaea Matekino Lawless, both renowned weavers. As our Nan’s drivers, we attended the wānanga where we were introduced to the fine weaving of whāriki, (finely-woven mats) primarily used on the marae, piupiu (traditional Māori performing costumes), and kākahu (cloaks) which required much skill and patience,” says Fiona.

“Nan was a celebrity in the weaving world. So, we tagged along and basked in her fame,” says Claudette. In adulthood, the sisters’ journeys have both intersected and diverged. Fiona has been a weaver since she was very young, a pastime which she shared with her mates, but there came a time, when it wasn’t fashionable anymore.

“Suddenly my mates and I didn’t want to weave anymore — we wanted to play spacies, eat junk food, play basketball and watch videos,” she says.

In her mid-20s, Fiona had a friend who attended Toihoukura School of Māori Visual Art and Design. “I thought if he could get into the school, so can I . . . so I did.”

“One of our many uncles, Mark Kopua, a tohunga tã moko, advised me to go to Toihoukura, join a weaving group and the National Weaving Body. It was great advice,” says Fiona.

“He had a spare seat in his car and encouraged me to tag along with him on a trip to Wellington to see a contemporary weaving exhibition called the ‘Eternal Thread’. It was showing in the capital before it went to San Francisco and looked at the changing art of Māori weaving including contemporary and traditional styles. That’s when my eyes were opened to how the weaving arts had evolved through the works of these modern artists and weavers,” says Fiona.

“Coming from a traditional background, this gave me the inspiration and confidence I was looking for to take my weaving to another dimension. I incorporated modern materials with my traditional weaving and got into ‘free hanging sculptural forms’, under the guidance of Steve Gibbs, a tutor at Toihoukura.

“I had never been overseas and within four years I went to Europe three times, to support art exhibitions and cultural exchanges with Toihoukura and Toi Hauiti, Te Aitanga a Hauiti”.

Degree in Contemporary Art and Design

Fiona graduated with a degree in Contemporary Art and Design, Maori, in 2008 and won the prestigious Ruanuku Award, sponsored by Professor Jack Richards. She was the first weaver to receive such an honour.

Over the past year, Fiona has been involved in co-ordinating wananga and community workshops with colleague Tia Kirk in Gisborne. They plan to run more workshops at Hauiti, Uawa, in 2018.

“So, get weaving whanau and sign up,” she says.

Fiona is currently working as a full-time artist and specialises in creating one-off commissioned heritage pieces, such as traditional kākahu (Māori cloaks). Claudette has been involved in running wānanga and attending weaving workshops, locally and nationally. Like Fiona, she graduated with a degree in Contemporary Art and Design, Maori, from Toihoukura School of Māori Visual Art and Design. “My background was in traditional weaving but at Toihoukura, I branched out into other materials. My contemporary visual design media included wood, metalwork and mixed media. I wove copper sheets and strips and steel and aluminum.”

Fiona and Claudette were chosen to represent Hauiti and wove two panels as part of a collective commissioned by the New Zealand High Commission which is now hanging at the United Nations building in New York.

Claudette has now returned to traditional weaving. She enjoys making kete whakairo, pretty decorative bags perfect for formal events — these are considered taonga. She also enjoys creating designs which reflect her weaving ancestry.

Claudette and Fiona are currently working on a collaborative series of tukutuku panels for an exhibition called Native Voices.

Michelle’s life took a different path from her sisters. In her teens, she went to live in Auckland where she trained and worked as a chef. But in her late-30s, she felt a strong desire to return to Uawa.

“I know it might sounds weird to some, but something was calling me home,” says Michelle. “On my return to Uawa, I used to be the cook at our marae for those attending the many weaving wānanga that my whanau would hold and attend.

Renowned weaver from Rotoiti

“I had not done any weaving since I was a child. Then one day, our aunty Tina Wirihana, a renowned weaver from Rotoiti, approached me in the kitchen and asked me why I wasn’t in the wānanga? She knew my background and decided I was hiding my talents under a tea towel. She invited me to a whāriki wānanga in Te Arawa and my days in the kitchen came to an abrupt end. I hung up my apron and started weaving again . . . and haven’t stopped since. It was a real revelation for me and a pivotal moment in my life” says Michelle.

“Working with harakeke and weaving requires a level of balance in life. To weave you need your body to respond to the physical work, your mind must be at peace and your wairua (spiritual self) should be ngāwari (gentle).

“Whilst living away from home and not weaving, I had none of those things and my life was a constant struggle.

“Since returning to my people and living in an iwi environment which includes weaving, my life has improved exponentially. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true,” she says.

Michelle’s forte is whāriki. “There was a need at my marae in Uawa to replace the whāriki, the ceremonial mats that the coffin sits on during a tangi. The existing ones were over 80 years and they were beautiful but they needed to be retired.

“I really wanted to replace them with a whāriki just as beautiful. But our skill levels to create such a masterpiece were not quite there. So, we approached Creative New Zealand and gained financial support for the project. We brought in tutors and invited the community to learn about making whāriki,” she says. “In 2007, we ran a series of wananga over the course of 12 months and produced four whāriki for our iwi. Two went to Hauiti Marae and two to Te Rawheoro Marae, both at Tolaga Bay. “We had about 30 participants representing local marae but some dropped out when they discovered that weaving is far from glamorous — the preparation is physically vigorous and making a whāriki can be time-consuming.”

Michelle says she’s currently “obsessed” with poi piu, a traditional design of what we call a poi.

“Poi piu is made from muka (fibre) extracted from the flax leaf, and hukahuka (tassels), which I have adorned with colour, feathers and maize husks.” She is preparing a series for an exhibition being hung in Gisborne.

The sisters are all members of Te Roopu Rāranga Whatu, the National Weavers’ Body. “They hold a big conference biennially with delegates from New Zealand and around the world,” says Claudette.

“It’s a great place to make relationships among indigenous artists from other countries.

“Weaving groups weave people together and also act as support networks,” she says. “They offer a supportive social environment and enable the older generation to share their precious knowledge.”

Claudette says weaving is not solely a woman’s domain anymore. “These days, there are talented young male weavers on the scene creating some amazing pieces.” Looking back, the sisters say they owe their love of weaving to their beautiful grandmother, Madeleine, who had the foresight to pass her passion onto her mokopuna.

Whiria te tangata ka puta he oranga

Whiria ngā mahi toi ka puta he tino rangatiratanga.

Weaving people promotes wellbeing

Weaving the arts promotes excellence.

He uri mātou no Te Whānau a Apanui, no Te Aitanga a Hauiti, no Ngai Tūhoe, no Ngāti Raukawa.

I tipu ake mātou ki roto o Ūawa ki Arataha te kainga o āku tipuna.

Ko Tītīrangi te maunga.

Ko Ūawanui-a-Ruamatua te awa. Ko Te Aitanga a Hauiti te iwi.

Ko Michelle rātou ko Claudette ko Fiona tenei e mihi atu nei.

I had a lesson in rāranga (weaving) the other day from three kaiwhatu (gurus) of the art-form, the Collis sisters Michelle, Claudette and Fiona . . . and the te reo Māori vocabulary that pertains to this time-honoured practice.

The sisters grew up at “Arataha,” their grandparents’ farm on Tauwhareparae Road, Tolaga Bay in an extended family, three generations in fact.

“We lived with our Pāpā, Titi Tangohau, Nan, Madeleine Tangohau (nee Stirling), mother, Te Rangi Rangi, and Uncle Paki,” says Michelle the eldest of the siblings.

“Weaving was a passion of our Nan’s and we were always at her feet when she was cleaning the harakeke (flax) and weaving. It was part of our lives and like many Nans of that time, she lovingly taught us how to make a variety of shapes such as stars and insects from harakeke. She turned them into hanging mobiles that were dotted around the farm.

“When our cousins came home for the holidays, Nan would teach them too. She made a conscientious effort to teach all her mokopuna how to weave from a very young age.”

The first things the sisters learned to make were rourou (food baskets), whiri kete (kete with a plaited base) and papa (placemats) for the tēpu (table).

The girls describe their Nan as a practical weaver.

“Living through the Depression, she used her weaving skills to make the things she needed, as did many.

“Our Nan wove rourou, big and small for storing kai in. When we harvested potatoes and kumara they were sorted in large kumara kete (kete with holes for ventilation) and placed in the rua (earth pit) on and under layers of mānuka bracken to discourage the rats,” says Michelle.

Basic weaving skills

Fiona says their grandmother was active in the community, teaching basic weaving skills.

“Every now and then we are approached by people who knew our Nan. They talk about the time she taught them to make a rourou or kete, so I guess her legacy of sharing these skills lives on in our generation.”

When they reached their 20s, the girls became Nan’s drivers.

“We would drive her around to marae to wānanga to learn other weaving skills. We had already learned how to make a variation of kete (baskets)and potae (hats).

“Many invitations were sent to Nan to attend weaving wānanga (seminars) in Rotoiti hosted by Tina Wirihana and her mother Whaea Matekino Lawless, both renowned weavers. As our Nan’s drivers, we attended the wānanga where we were introduced to the fine weaving of whāriki, (finely-woven mats) primarily used on the marae, piupiu (traditional Māori performing costumes), and kākahu (cloaks) which required much skill and patience,” says Fiona.

“Nan was a celebrity in the weaving world. So, we tagged along and basked in her fame,” says Claudette. In adulthood, the sisters’ journeys have both intersected and diverged. Fiona has been a weaver since she was very young, a pastime which she shared with her mates, but there came a time, when it wasn’t fashionable anymore.

“Suddenly my mates and I didn’t want to weave anymore — we wanted to play spacies, eat junk food, play basketball and watch videos,” she says.

In her mid-20s, Fiona had a friend who attended Toihoukura School of Māori Visual Art and Design. “I thought if he could get into the school, so can I . . . so I did.”

“One of our many uncles, Mark Kopua, a tohunga tã moko, advised me to go to Toihoukura, join a weaving group and the National Weaving Body. It was great advice,” says Fiona.

“He had a spare seat in his car and encouraged me to tag along with him on a trip to Wellington to see a contemporary weaving exhibition called the ‘Eternal Thread’. It was showing in the capital before it went to San Francisco and looked at the changing art of Māori weaving including contemporary and traditional styles. That’s when my eyes were opened to how the weaving arts had evolved through the works of these modern artists and weavers,” says Fiona.

“Coming from a traditional background, this gave me the inspiration and confidence I was looking for to take my weaving to another dimension. I incorporated modern materials with my traditional weaving and got into ‘free hanging sculptural forms’, under the guidance of Steve Gibbs, a tutor at Toihoukura.

“I had never been overseas and within four years I went to Europe three times, to support art exhibitions and cultural exchanges with Toihoukura and Toi Hauiti, Te Aitanga a Hauiti”.

Degree in Contemporary Art and Design

Fiona graduated with a degree in Contemporary Art and Design, Maori, in 2008 and won the prestigious Ruanuku Award, sponsored by Professor Jack Richards. She was the first weaver to receive such an honour.

Over the past year, Fiona has been involved in co-ordinating wananga and community workshops with colleague Tia Kirk in Gisborne. They plan to run more workshops at Hauiti, Uawa, in 2018.

“So, get weaving whanau and sign up,” she says.

Fiona is currently working as a full-time artist and specialises in creating one-off commissioned heritage pieces, such as traditional kākahu (Māori cloaks). Claudette has been involved in running wānanga and attending weaving workshops, locally and nationally. Like Fiona, she graduated with a degree in Contemporary Art and Design, Maori, from Toihoukura School of Māori Visual Art and Design. “My background was in traditional weaving but at Toihoukura, I branched out into other materials. My contemporary visual design media included wood, metalwork and mixed media. I wove copper sheets and strips and steel and aluminum.”

Fiona and Claudette were chosen to represent Hauiti and wove two panels as part of a collective commissioned by the New Zealand High Commission which is now hanging at the United Nations building in New York.

Claudette has now returned to traditional weaving. She enjoys making kete whakairo, pretty decorative bags perfect for formal events — these are considered taonga. She also enjoys creating designs which reflect her weaving ancestry.

Claudette and Fiona are currently working on a collaborative series of tukutuku panels for an exhibition called Native Voices.

Michelle’s life took a different path from her sisters. In her teens, she went to live in Auckland where she trained and worked as a chef. But in her late-30s, she felt a strong desire to return to Uawa.

“I know it might sounds weird to some, but something was calling me home,” says Michelle. “On my return to Uawa, I used to be the cook at our marae for those attending the many weaving wānanga that my whanau would hold and attend.

Renowned weaver from Rotoiti

“I had not done any weaving since I was a child. Then one day, our aunty Tina Wirihana, a renowned weaver from Rotoiti, approached me in the kitchen and asked me why I wasn’t in the wānanga? She knew my background and decided I was hiding my talents under a tea towel. She invited me to a whāriki wānanga in Te Arawa and my days in the kitchen came to an abrupt end. I hung up my apron and started weaving again . . . and haven’t stopped since. It was a real revelation for me and a pivotal moment in my life” says Michelle.

“Working with harakeke and weaving requires a level of balance in life. To weave you need your body to respond to the physical work, your mind must be at peace and your wairua (spiritual self) should be ngāwari (gentle).

“Whilst living away from home and not weaving, I had none of those things and my life was a constant struggle.

“Since returning to my people and living in an iwi environment which includes weaving, my life has improved exponentially. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true,” she says.

Michelle’s forte is whāriki. “There was a need at my marae in Uawa to replace the whāriki, the ceremonial mats that the coffin sits on during a tangi. The existing ones were over 80 years and they were beautiful but they needed to be retired.

“I really wanted to replace them with a whāriki just as beautiful. But our skill levels to create such a masterpiece were not quite there. So, we approached Creative New Zealand and gained financial support for the project. We brought in tutors and invited the community to learn about making whāriki,” she says. “In 2007, we ran a series of wananga over the course of 12 months and produced four whāriki for our iwi. Two went to Hauiti Marae and two to Te Rawheoro Marae, both at Tolaga Bay. “We had about 30 participants representing local marae but some dropped out when they discovered that weaving is far from glamorous — the preparation is physically vigorous and making a whāriki can be time-consuming.”

Michelle says she’s currently “obsessed” with poi piu, a traditional design of what we call a poi.

“Poi piu is made from muka (fibre) extracted from the flax leaf, and hukahuka (tassels), which I have adorned with colour, feathers and maize husks.” She is preparing a series for an exhibition being hung in Gisborne.

The sisters are all members of Te Roopu Rāranga Whatu, the National Weavers’ Body. “They hold a big conference biennially with delegates from New Zealand and around the world,” says Claudette.

“It’s a great place to make relationships among indigenous artists from other countries.

“Weaving groups weave people together and also act as support networks,” she says. “They offer a supportive social environment and enable the older generation to share their precious knowledge.”

Claudette says weaving is not solely a woman’s domain anymore. “These days, there are talented young male weavers on the scene creating some amazing pieces.” Looking back, the sisters say they owe their love of weaving to their beautiful grandmother, Madeleine, who had the foresight to pass her passion onto her mokopuna.

Whiria te tangata ka puta he oranga

Whiria ngā mahi toi ka puta he tino rangatiratanga.

Weaving people promotes wellbeing

Weaving the arts promotes excellence.

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