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No. 18 (May 1957)
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WOMEN'S WORLD

PLAITS AND PLAITING

Here are some of the many plaiting techniques known to the ancient Maori, and studied by the Dominion Museum over the last thirty years. All those detailed here are of raw flax, each part of the flax blade used in the plait being termed a weft or whenu. It is hoped that many of the younger generation will be able to learn these plaits. If you try, please write and let us know how you get on.

We start with a simple two plait. About the year 1930 a two plait was made for me by an elderly Maori, Mrs Atkinson, of the Ngati Raukawa tribe at Rangiotu. As she was unable to speak, I could not ascertain anything about it, but other Maoris assured me that it had been taught her by her elders, together with other plaits, many years previously. No Otaki Maoris or others whom I questioned later could do this plait though it is known elsewhere. It is made as follows:

Two wefts are crossed, right over left. Bring left weft upwards and bend to the right. Bend right weft underneath and to the left, bringing it over the top of left weft which has just been laid down on the right. We now have the position as seen in fig. 1, left. Continue always bending weft on right underneath and weft on left upwards, placing weft which comes from right side over the top of weft which comes from left side as in fig. 1, right. If this plait be done very tightly we get a remarkably good two-ply twist. It was probably a children's plait.

A plait known as whiri kawe was first shown to me in 1930 by Mrs Rikihana, Ngati Taukawa tribe. Since then I have found that this plait was widely known to older Maori women every here and there from Wellington to Awanui. Mrs Rikihana had learned the plait from her mother when very young. She had been instructed that this was the old type of tipare used as a circlet for the head before the present four-type plait came into vogue. Two ties of this particular three plait were necessary, one around the forehead to hold the hair in place and the other just below the top-knot to hold its base in position. The whiri kawe is simply and readily made by following the accompanying diagrams to be seen in fig. 2. In these diagrams the butt is held towards the worker, and three wefts are retained on a single blade.

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Figure 1: Two-plait from Rangi-otu—Left: Beginning of the plait. Right: Final form of the two-plait, widely plaited to show construction. (W.J.P. del.)

First, to prevent the blades from splitting down to the butt end it is necessary to bend the blade over sharply backwards and forwards. This bending backwards and forwards is called “hetope” in Otaki, and it certainly prevents the blades splitting down to the base. Holding the butt towards you, the wefts are pointed away and the centre weft is pulled sharply downwards towards the operator. The weft on the left is turned as in fig. 2 so that it ranges alongside the weft on the right. We now turn the weft on the right over the weft on the left, as in no. 3. Weft no. 2, which had been pulled towards the worker, is now raised to the extreme right as in no. 4. This process is repeated continuously, as will be seen in nos. 5 and 6, the instructions being as follows:

The central weft towards you, the one on the left a turn or twist, the one on the right over that, weft that was pulled towards you up on your right.

The four plait was formerly used as a rope at Otaki, and was a very common plait indeed. It is a square plait which could be made either of raw flax or of muka fibre. This plait is rather remarkable because in its initial stages it becomes a toy or windmill for Maori children, and was apparently in universal use at the time the Europeans arrived in New Zealand, and probably very much earlier. Like the other plaits, I have verified its use not only at Otaki but also in Taranaki, North Auckland and the Bay of Plenty. Mr J. M. McEwen knew the plait at Feilding as a boy where Maori children made windmills of raupo. At the

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start I could find no other Maori name for this toy than mira hau, literally the mill of the wind, and mira is obviously a corruption of the English word mill, so almost reluctantly I at first decided that in spite of its wide usage the mira hau must be an early European toy taught to the Maori children by early whalers and traders. However, later on I noticed how Sir Peter Buck (Trans. N.Z. Inst. Vol. 56, 1926, fig. 54) illustrates this plait as a bait rest (paemounu) for a form of net (torehe) used on the East Coast and Bay of Plenty.

In 1951 I visited Tatana Whare-papa, Te Kaha, Bay of Plenty, and met his family. Mrs Whare-papa was formerly Kerama Ngakau Tuhou, daughter of the second Lady Ngata. In course of conversation the Maori wind-mill, mira hau, was mentioned; but Kerama Whare-papa said this was an old Maori toy. She was brought up by her grandmother, Tererino Ruku Hine Tiurangi of Mangahanea, Ruatoria, who made the wind-mill sixty or more years ago. It was known as Tititi parerera, and was correctly made of raupo. As they used this toy, children made their avocation to the god of the wind to make their wind-mills turn: “Homai ra he hau motaku titi parerera.”

We have in fig. 3 a series of three drawings made to illustrate this plait. The first drawing illustrates very well the method of manufacture. Two blades of flax of equal width are taken. We cross these as seen on the back of the completed toy, no. 2, then we bend each blade in the shape of a letter N. Study how cleverly the two ends are folded into each other as in the first and last figures. Then try it. Pull the two ends together tightly and the first stage is completed. If the arms are cut off short, a hole placed in the centre and a fern stalk used as a handle, we have our windmill complete, but when making rope naturally we would continue to fold the ends one into the other continuously as in the first operation, new pieces being added as required.

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Miss Patricia Mathison, a 29-year-old Maori policewoman, recently topped the examination marks for policewomen passing out of the police training school. Trentham. She is one of the few representatives of the Maori race in the women's section of the force.

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Figure 2, Nos. 1 to 6: The beginning of the plait called whiri kawe. (E. H. Atkinson del.)

Miss Mathison's police school “dux” consisted in gaining highest aggregate marks for three final examinations. When her marks were included with those of men candidates in the same training course she was second highest for the whole school.

In two debates held at the Trentham school she was leader of her team and in each debate she was adjudged best speaker.

She won most of the athletic events contested among women candidates at the school, carrying on a record she started when she served in the Army.

Miss Mathison joined the police force in October 1955. Her people are farmers at Okato, on the Cape Egmont coast in Taranaki.

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Figure 3: A Maori windmill, No. 1: How the windmill is constructed. No. 2: Back view. No. 3: Front view of completed windmill. (S. Traill, Mrs Natusch, del.)

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