There is so much more to Maori weaving than simply creating a beautiful work of art or an article of decorative clothing.
Polynesian culture is a spiritual one and there is a belief that an artist is a vehicle for the gods. The artist expresses the feelings and thoughts of the gods and the product of the artist’s work is therefore a sacred one. Art is linked and inter-related to all that is sacred and spiritual.
The Maori have many symbols and meanings hidden within their art and these are very definite in woven articles.
There are several techniques that have been passed through the ages but raranga is the one that has survived colonisation. It has strong links with both Asian and Pacific Island weaving.
The Maori believe that the past is also the future and the present and is an eternal circle. Raranga (or the art of weaving) has been passed down from the ancestors to the people living today and it is a living symbol that has survived for many generations.
The spirit of raranga evokes feelings of spirituality, of togetherness and of unity. The art of weaving is not only sacred but it literally weaves together all the people of the tribes and their ancestors, ensuring that the tribes remain strong and that memories are kept alive.
Weaving aids the physical and mental abilities of the craftsmen and the preparation of the necessary materials is a test of both patience and determination. There are many natural materials found in the New Zealand bush that are used for weaving. The main material is flax or Harakeke (Phormium tenax) and the fibre of the plant is made into a soft and durable fabric known as Muka.
Raranga is alive and well in New Zealand today and is being taught both privately and at university level throughout the country as well as being passed on first hand from the older generations.