Over shared kai and kōrero, three inspirational students and their kaiako, Riria McDonald and Vicki Pirihi, discussed their passion around raranga. Their kōrero included the connection of raranga to the Pūtaiao curriculum, and how it has given these students an insight into mātauranga Māori.
Both Riria (Ngāti Whakaue) and Vicki (Te Arawa, Te Whakatōhea, Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu) have teaching backgrounds and have grown up amongst artists, performers and reo exponents from within the Te Arawa region.
Riria and Vicki have now joined forces to share their knowledge of harakeke and raranga with students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu, Rotorua Girls’ High and Western Heights.
Two of the students, Ngāmihiaroha and Horowai, began learning raranga while in year 7 at Te Koutu. Now a student at Western Heights, Ngāmihiaroha has made a hieke and continues to develop her skill.
Horowai attends Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu and describes his attraction to Toi Māori as ‘innate’. He agrees with Te Ririu, our third inspirational student, about the significance of harakeke. “Understanding the harakeke and its strength, and being sure to use the correct leaf for the right piece is, also, understanding the taiao.” Beyond pūtaiao, he believes raranga enhances an individual’s wairua by being in the company of others while weaving. “Harakeke has changed my whole outlook on my schooling.”
Te Ririu, head girl at Rotorua Girls’ High School, immersed herself in this traditional art form when she was 13. She spent time with weavers at wānanga and her passion for raranga has grown ever since. Her time is now spent working with ‘muka’ – the precious fibre within the rau harakeke.
Te Ririu says the pūtaiao involved in the extraction of muka involves several stages; classifying and identifying the best rau to use, measuring the water content and, finally, the actual process of extraction.
"Harakeke has made me who I am." Te Ririu
As part of her commitment to the young girls who are struggling with kura, Te Ririu has created a well-being programme that uses raranga to help them manage their anxiety and problems. “I was like them when I started high school. Raranga helped me build confidence and allowed me to express my feelings, so I’ve begun to work with the girls. Every Monday morning we sit and weave putiputi and we kōrero. I talk to them about how they are and what they are doing. At the same time they build their raranga skills, which in turn builds their confidence to get through school.”
Riria expands on the skills involved in raranga. “There are a hundred varieties of flax which can be individually identified by their leaves and their markings. As a weaver it’s important to look at your bush, and match it to the descriptions in books to classify it. The one we use on the pā site goes back at least two generations and was specifically used for piu. Because it’s geo-thermal in this region not every type of harakeke will grow here."
While the interview was predominantly focussed on Pūtaiao, it became clear that harakeke and raranga connect all areas of the curriculum. All three students understood the knowledge around Pūtaiao when working with harakeke, but saw it as a tool for continued growth and well-being.
Riria continues by saying, “It’s difficult to separate the curriculum areas and focus on one at a time. They are all part of raranga, and impact on each other. He tika te kōrero, he pā whakawairua te pā harakeke because from the harakeke bush stems all our traditions, stories and tikanga. Vicki and I share our knowledge of raranga with our rangatahi to ensure the ‘mauri’ of our place and the place they have in the world is strong like the muka – me he muka tangata.”
- “Preparing Flax.” Alison Marion Brown 2006.
- “Cellulose.” Chemistry: Foundations and Applications. Retrieved August 12, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cellulose-0