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.