With 200 years of mātauranga handed down from their tupuna, a group of wāhine toa are standing together to manaaki an Aotearoa taonga.
Five dedicated weavers are recreating the only known woven Māori sail Te Rā, a precious 200-300 year-old taonga. The replica is hoped to be atop a waka at Waitangi for the 200th celebration of the Treaty of Waitangi in 2040, having sparked a renaissance of woven sails.
The project began 25 years ago, when Māori artist Dr Maureen Lander first saw Te Rā in London. Later, she recruited kairaranga Mandy Sunlight, who had been holding wānanga at Pā Te Aroha marae in Northland’s Whirinaki for many years, along with Rouati Ewens and Ruth Port and the dream began to take form.
In January 2019, the three visited the British Museum for the second time to research the methods and techniques of weaving the Te Rā recreation. Upon returning, they recruited two more weavers and got to work learning the skills required to recreate the 4.2 metre woven masterpiece.
Earlier this year, funding was sought from Foundation North towards project costs involved in the recreation of Te Rā, an initiative which will take up to two years to complete and then be followed by a dissemination phase, when the knowledge and skills will be shared. The grant will be used towards stipends for the weavers, koha for contributing experts, resources, venue hire, and administration costs.
Te Rā is a unique opportunity to institute Mātauranga Māori that realises the technological skills of the tupuna of Aotearoa. Alongside that very important aspect of cultural strength, social cohesion within communities will be strengthened through the increased opportunities to engage in collaboration with others in an area of strength and passion of the artists. The collaborations are expected to empower people through success and enjoyment in their lives and enhancing their sense of wellness.
Steeped in Te Ao Māori through sharing mātauranga Māori, the project is having many impacts on the community through wānanga on marae, drawing on each member’s individual skills, being guided by mentors, tikanga and whanaungatanga. The weavers take a holistic approach, collaborating with and learning from sailors, navigators, waka experts and incorporating Maramataka in planning.
The project continues to garner support from communities around Aotearoa and the world. In 2040, Aotearoa New Zealand will welcome the woven Māori sail which will usher in a sense of awe and pride of our tupuna; pride that produces a sense of wellbeing for Māori today.
The skills and knowledge we have attained to date, as well as that which we intend to gather, will be shared with everyone, locally, nationally and internationally.
It’s not just about the sail, it’s about a connection to the past, to our tupuna and all the mātauranga surrounding Te Rā - Te Rā is chockablock with mātauranga Māori!