Pihepihe and other rain capes are the forerunners to piupiu. As kākahu, piupiu came to prominence around the late 1800’s, early 1900’s. A decline in the number of weavers who could make fine kākahu, made piupiu a more practical option. It could be produced in a fraction of the time, numerous people could produce it and the end result, it was still recognisably Māori. They were developed to a fairly ornate degree, featuring tāniko borders, feathered borders and a decorative technique which used loops as a form of design.

How did I get into piupiu making? In 1985 piupiu discovered me through two wonderful elderly ladies, Hōmai Balzer and Hāna Anaru, whom I worked with as guiding staff at the Māori Arts and Crafts Institute. Under ‘Bubbles’ Mihinui, they had an order of piupiu to fulfill for Te Wakahuia (performing arts group) and said to me “boy can you give us a hand!” Thanks to these kuia, piupiu making has been a normal part of my life for 25 years. Due to its laborious nature it necessitated teaching this art form to my parents, sister, nieces and nephews. It’s unlikely my own four children will escape this!

Today I only make about 10-15 piupiu a year for groups. My time is spent developing piupiu as an artform and as a wearable kākahu. I choose to work with indigenous materials and dyes. I find that within this restriction the challenge is such that it demands you achieve a balance between design and colour. Having more choice of material to work with for me leaves little room for imagination.

Koromāhanga Technique

Koromāhanga is one term that best describes the ‘loop’ technique which has been used on all of the piupiu in this series of work. While there is evidence of this technique found on piupiu in museum collections, it was not developed to its fullest potential. ‘Koekoeā’ was the first ever piupiu I created using the koromāhanga technique. The second was ‘Kotahi a Tūhoe’ which was made for Whirimako Black. With these I have worked with a simple geometric pattern, the niho taniwha, to experiment with subtle and bold texture. ‘Ka kata te pō’ is the miniature version of ‘Kotahi a Tūhoe’ and here the koromāhanga are much finer and create a more subtle texture. To be able to make pieces which also have a practical function is an important part of the overall creative process for me and this is so with Whirimako’s piece.

Koromāhanga technique

Ngāraranui Series

In 1996 I formed a competitive performing arts group or ‘kapa haka’ group which was given the name Te Akaaka Ngāraranui. Like other groups, the name Ngāraranui is that of a hapū or collection of whānau who descend from the ancestor Ngāraranui of Ngāti Whakaue, Te Arawa. The main uniform required for almost all kapa haka groups is piupiu, and so this design based on the aramoana pattern was created and when seen is synonymous with the name Ngāraranui.

The design itself is challenging to create because of the placement of a high number of cuts required. A waistband is normally commenced immediately above the first unscraped section of flax at the top of each strand. The waistband for the Ngāraranui piupiu commences further above this in the spun muka section. The difficulty is that it does not have an unscraped fleshy section to anchor the band. The end result however is you get a fluid movement of each strand, it falls better on the body and has better swing. It also gives an illusion of slimming the performers’ waist.

‘Ngāraranui’, ‘Te tū a Tāne’ and ‘Te tū a Hine Raumati’ are a series of three piupiu created and based on the original design. Each explores the natural dye colours which are paru, tāwhero and tutu, and kōkōwai respectively. The application of koromāhanga for each waistband plays on the use of the triangular design. The attraction for me with the use of koromāhanga as the decorative waistband border is two fold; firstly it takes only a fraction of the time to do as opposed to tāniko, and secondly it creates texture in addition to design.

‘Te kori a Tāne’ and ‘Te kori a Hine Raumati’ are two further examples of practical piupiu which can be worn on an adult female. Like most of the pieces, the names for the Te Ira Tangata series emerged after the exhibition not for some deep and philosophical reason but simply because the pattern resembled the shape of a D.N.A. helix. This image is best reflected in ‘Te Ira Tāne’.

Ngāraranui technique

Te Ira Tangata Series

This series, like the Ngāraranui series, was another opportunity to explore the koromāhanga technique used to enhance the waistband. The Ngāraranui series the triangular shape forms the base of the koromāhanga design. Variations using this and a change in colour gives each there own unique look. However with Te Ira Tangata, the koromāhanga pattern is the ‘koru’ and there is no variation except for colour. The clarity of the ‘koru’ pattern is not as sharp as it could be to really feature it as the design. My wife actually pained over whether to withhold one of them from the exhibition because of this. I think we both decided that it was important to sometimes let pieces like this be judged by the public. The koru pattern will feature in other piupiu in upcoming exhibitions and will of course be more refined!

A good example of refining the technique can be seen in the cross over from the medium Ngāraranui piupiu to the adult size piupiu. In the adult piupiu the pattern in the waistband is better balanced and therefore has a greater impact when you look at it.

Te Ira Tangata technique
Karl Leonard, Master Weaver, Aotearoa, New Zealand

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