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Korowaitanga

What is a Korowai?

A Korowai is a type of kākahu (cloak) with a very distinctive style. The body of the kākahu and the neck border adorned with hukahuka, best describe as decorative tags. The hukahuka are made from rolled muka (flax fibre) and usually dyed black.

What are the key differences between contemporary and traditional Korowai?

Traditional cloaks are 100 per cent handmade from natural fibres – they are the pinnacle of raranga kākahu [woven clothing]. Contemporary cloaks are either hand-woven or sewn from contemporary mediums.

What does a Korowai represent?

The Korowai is a traditional woven Maori cloak. The Korowai is worn as mantle of prestige and honour. The name Korowai is symbolic of leadership, and includes the obligation to care for the people and environment.

Why do you wear a Korowai?

It is worn as a mantle of prestige and honor. Everyone has different reasons for wearing Korowai on their graduation day whether it be, a sense of identity, a graduation acknowledgement, a congratulatory gift, a connection to our NZ heritage or family tradition.

How is a Korowai made?

Korowai are finely woven cloaks covered with muka tassels (hukahuka). Hukahuka are made by the miro (twist thread) process of dyeing the muka (flax fibre) and rolling two bundles into a single cord which is then woven into the body of the cloak.
What do Hukahuka represent?
When formed into tauira patterns, the hukahuka represents themes of mana, whānau and community resilience. The cover of the two reports has the hukahuka arranged into Te Ara Wai pattern, a representation of navigating pathways towards an aspirational future.
What is a Kākahu?
The Kākahu (Maori cloak) was a garment made in early Maori times and was generally woven or made from traditional materials like flax and feathers. They are worn as a mantle of prestige and honour.

What is the difference between a Korowai and a Kākahu?

Korowai is the name of a muka [flax fibre] cloak with hukahuka adornment [tassels], while kākahu is the Māori word for clothing, however in reference to a cloak it's more commonly used when describing a full feather cloak

What is a Kahu Huruhuru? 

Māori treasure kahu huruhuru (feather cloaks) for their beauty and skilful construction - and also because birds are seen as messengers from the spiritual realm. These cloaks became prestigious from the mid 1800s.
When should they be worn?

Māori cloaks are most commonly worn on special occasions, whether a significant hui and coming together of people, or a significant graduation or birthday. The cloaks hold stories of our history or whānau [family] and whakapapa [genealogy]. They’re held in the highest regard and worn with the highest form of respect.

Whats the significance for someone who's not Māori being gifted or lent one to wear?

For centuries, cloaks have been gifted to manuhiri [guests] to our country as a form of respect and to honour the individual in a way that only Māori culture can. There is and always has been contention around the topic of non-Māori wearing or being gifted Māori cloaks depending on personal, iwi [tribe] and hapū [subtribe] beliefs.

What are the main differences between the styles of Māori cloaks?

There are specific names for the various styles. Korowai is the name of a muka [flax fibre] cloak with hukahuka adornment [tassels], while kākahu is the Māori word for clothing, however in reference to a cloak it’s more commonly used when describing a full feather cloak.

There are other names for cloaks made from various mediums, for example pake [rain cloaks], woven with durable dried leaves; kahi koati, woven with goat hair; kahu huruhuru, woven with full feather coverage; kahu kiwi, with full kiwi feather coverage; and kaitaka, a fine muka cloak with tāniko [a traditional weaving technique] borders.

How are they usually made, and what's important when making them?

Traditional cloaks are hand-woven in muka and can take an experienced weaver up to a year to complete. The skill and time it takes to weave a traditional Māori cloak are only two of the reasons why they’re our most prestigious and highly honoured taonga [sacred item] and why our traditional master weavers are held in such high regard.

Contemporary cloaks come in many forms; the revival of the cloak-weaving techniques through wānanga [courses] held at marae all over the country see many weavers using cotton cord as opposed to hand-processed muka. These hand-woven cloaks can take two to six months to weave.

There are companies that machine-sew feather trims into fabric and use machine-processed tāniko trims; these can be made in a few hours. In any case, it’s important to respect the tikanga [protocols] around the creation of any Māori taonga and to acknowledge the origins and tipuna [ancestors] these precious skills, knowledge and culture have been passed down by.