Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Width: 206.000 cm
Gift of Sir George Grey
Maori, possibly early 19th century
From New Zealand, Polynesia
Maori weaving has always been the skilled work of women, who do not use tools, only their fingers. The piece is suspended from two weaving sticks. The warp (that is, lengthwise) threads are suspended between the two sticks, and the weft (the threads woven across the warp) are twined across them from left to right.
The kaitaka is an early type of Maori cloak, which was seen and collected by Captain Cook. The classic kaitaka was woven using unbeaten New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) to retain its shining quality. Many early examples are plain, and others show a limited use of taniko (decorative weaves) incorporating the black and brown colours of natural dyes. Later examples often have full taniko borders, applied in thin strips along the two sides with a broader band along the bottom border as worn. Europeans introduced sheep to New Zealand and brightly coloured wools became a popular element of cloak decoration. The kaitaka eventually became obsolete in around 1840, as another cloak style known as korowai grew in popularity and replaced it. The classic korowai was a white garment, decorated with hanging two-ply flax fibre cords, usually dyed black. Later examples incorporated coloured wools.
This cloak was probably a gift to Sir George Grey, the first Governor General for New Zealand during the period 1845 to 1854. The body of the cloak is decorated with tiny wool pompoms and feathers.
D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
M. Pendergrast, Te Aho Tapu: The Sacred Thread (Auckland, Reed Methuen, 1987)