A tukutuku is a latticework panel used to decorate Maori meeting houses, and on Sunday I spent a fascinating day at a wanaga (workshop) learning how to make one at the UCL Department of Anthropology. The workshop was organised by Te Maru o Hinemihi and sponsored by the British Council.

The tutors, Jim and Cathy Schuster, were master weavers from Aotearoa (New Zealand) and had brought some traditional materials with them for us to use. These included kakaho, a type of reed (Chionochloa conspicua) that looks quite similar to pampas grass, and kiekie, a woody vine (Freycinetia banksii). Kiekie leaves are prepared for weaving by cutting them into strips, boiling and rinsing them, and then drying.

Tukutuku weavers work in pairs – one on the front and one on the back. I worked with Geraldine, a fellow basketmaker who told me about the workshop. We started by constructing the lattice. We were supplied with a bundle of painted wooden semi-circular slats, which we had to nail to two supports. The two-dollar coin you see in the photo below was used as a spacer to ensure that the slats weren’t too close together.

Then we turned the panel over and tied the kakaho stalks vertically, using string, to form a grid. Because the stalks are softer compared with the wooden slats, they can be shifted slightly when weaving, which allows more flexibility.

With the lattice constructed, the weaving can start. First, we had to secure the top and bottom slats in place with the kakaho stalks, using a crisscross weave (I’m sure there’s an official term for it, but I don’t know what it is). Then we could remove the string.

Then we could start weaving the pattern. There are several traditional patterns, usually based on nature and symbolising different aspects of Maori culture. Different tribal areas ascribed different meanings to the patterns.

In our case, the choice of pattern was determined by the number of slats and kakaho stalks we had – both even numbers. Some patterns require an odd number of slats and/or stalks. So the best pattern for us was poutama, which represents the stairway climbed to heaven to obtain the baskets of knowledge (rather approporiate!). It symbolises progress and the journey through life being onward and upward.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to finish the pattern, and I didn’t take any photos in progress, as both had both hands busy weaving! But this is what we were aiming for – and this is as far as we got.

Nobody else managed to finish weaving their patterns either – here’s a few of them.

However, Jim and Cathy are hoping to come over to the UK again in October, so hopefully we will get the chance to finish the panels then.

Talking of which, they previously ran a three-day workshop over here in 2012, with participants making much bigger panels. Sadly, many of these were destroyed in a fire, but a few people at our workshop had brought along an unfinished panel from that event and worked on it during the day, using harekeke (New Zealand flax) for weaving.

As you can see, tukutuku are even more impressive on a larger scale.

Hopefully I will be able to report completion of our panel at a later date!

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4 Responses

  1. The tukutuku are stunning. So striking and strong looking panels. Lovely patterns.

    What a wonderful workshop and experience. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Ka pai mahi! I always marvel at the tukutuku panels here in NZ. What a fabulous workshop to be involved in.

  3. Thanks Kim, they are really impressive and look quite complex to create. I went online to see them ‘insitu’ and found the Cook Landing Tukutuku – fabulous!♥️

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