Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Cloak of kiwi feathers (Kahu kiwi)
Maori, probably 19th century AD
From New Zealand, Polynesia
Maori cloaks with feather decoration may not have been popular in the period before European contact. About forty cloaks were collected on Captain Cook's voyages, but few bear the traces of feathers. Mick Pendergrast, a specialist in Maori textiles, comments that cloaks decorated fully with feathers seem to have appeared in the mid-nineteenth century. They became popular by the 1880s, and remain prestigious garments today. This cloak does not have any known original museum documentation indicating collection date or collector.
Many Maori feathered cloaks in museum collections are decorated entirely with kiwi feathers. This example has a backing of finger-woven flax fibre, with red, yellow and green woollen cords at the neck edge. It is decorated with kiwi feathers with borders of blue feathers from the tui, a honeyeater (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) and white feathers from the native bush pigeon, kereru (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae). Feathered cloaks are often extremely colourful, using pheasant, parrot, peacock and domestic fowl feathers. Sometimes dyed feathers are incorporated into cloaks.
Feathered cloaks are normally worked in an upside-down position, starting at the lower edge. The work is suspended between weaving sticks, without using a loom. Vertical warp threads are arranged between the sticks and the wefts are twined across them. The feathers are attached during the twining process.
S.M. Mead, Traditional Maori clothing: a (Wellington, Auckland, Sydney, A.H and A.W. Reed, 1969)
D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
H.L. Roth, The Maori Mantle (Halifax, Bankfield Museum, 1923, reprinted Ruth Bean, Carlton, Bedford, 1979)
M. Pendergrast, Te Aho Tapu: The Sacred Thread (Auckland, Reed Methuen, 1987)