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No. 36 (September 1961)
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The decorating of the Maori room at the Tokomaru Bay District High School became an opportunity for the local women to revive the ancient art of tukutuku. This article describes how the tukutuku panels were made and also describes the various patterns common in East Coast tukutuku, illustrated by photographs. The mixture of ancient and modern designs is fascinating and shows the art is still developing.


Tukutuku, or lattice work, is used to line Maori meeting houses and similar public buildings. It can be seen throughout New Zealand, and there are many fine examples of this form of decoration on the East Coast. One such is the “Maori Room” at the Tokomaru Bay District High School which was completed last year. This is a small room, in which examples of Maori Art have been gathered. The walls have been covered by panels of tukutuku which are held in place by borders carved and painted by Mr Pine Taiapa.

Members of the Maori people of Tokomaru Bay spent many months in the creation of the tukutuku panels. Essentially group work, many people gave their time and labour to the task.

When the weaving began, women spent all day and up to midnight in the old manual block at the work. Meals were prepared and eaten in the kitchen there so that as little time as possible should be lost.

Lively interest was taken in the work by all sections of the community, and many Europeans and visitors to the school have expressed great admiration for the beauty of the finished panels.

The preparation of the materials used took at least six months and was the most laborious part of the work. The leaves of the native kiekie, which is a parasitic plant growing usually on other trees or on cliffs, were cut from the roots, each leaf separately.

Running down the leaf are central ribs, and it is this part only that is used in tukutuku. The green part on either side was cut off and though

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KAO KOA: The armpits of a warrior striding along swinging his arms with manly vigour. Flax mats of this design are used only by those of high rank. The wife of a chief sat for a fortnight on such a mat before the birth of her child. She was visited by no one, her food being brought to her only by special slaves. Such treatment was supposed to aid her to produce a son of great strength.

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MUMU: The checkerboard design incorporating part of the fly-catcher design. An outstanding panel of two distinct designs which is satisfying from all angles and is the most typical of Maori art. It uses only the three traditional colours of black and white kie kie with the red background.

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NIHO TANIWHA: The teeth of the Taniwha (e.g. Mako) which was used as a threat for the children when they misbehaved. This design is often used on kits.

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WHANGANUI MUMU: A checkerboard design of several different patterns.

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usually discarded, the women at Tokomaru Bay used it to make pois.

Expeditions to the back of Tologa Bay were needed to procure enough of the vine, which was gathered by the truck load.

The rib part of the kie kie was boiled in plain water and dried to make it white. Natural dyes were used to colour the kie kie. The barks of the hinau and mako trees were boiled in a vat with the vine. The addition of rusty tins to the brew helped the dye to stick. The kie kie was then immersed in the special black swamp earth at Tikitiki and left for some weeks for the dye to take.

Pingao, which is naturally a bright yellow when dried, was also used in the panels.

After the kie kie had been processed the actual weaving was begun.

Wooden frames were nailed to crossbars and hung vertically to hold the panels. Dried sticks of the pampas grass were cut to a special length and the “sleeves” slipped off them to make them a uniform thickness. They were tied vertically to the frame with flax; an odd or even number, often about 40 to 47, were used depending upon the design. Nails were hammered down the frame at intervals to support the horizontal roof-red painted wooden slats.

The border of the panels, which is called “tumatakahuki”, a special stitch of its own, was woven first to hold the reeds and slats in place. The design chosen was worked out on graph paper, the stitches, or crosses, being inked in. All designs were begun from the centre and drawn in outwards.

The weaving was done from the graph paper pattern and usually one colour was systematically woven first.

Small strips of kie kie were pushed between a slat and the reed at the back until two ends protruded at the back of the panel. These were knotted—and this forms one stitch. The design is formed in a series of crosses, with variations in the form of the crosses.

Two people worked to a panel, one weaving, one at the back, tying the ends. Each large panel has between 11,000 and 13,000 stitches, at least 100 to a row.

In all, nine large panels about 7 feet high, and several smaller panels were made. Traditional patterns were used in the main, but some were designed by the local people. There are three special panels, a War Memorial panel; a panel incorporating the initials of the school; and one with a name of the school “Hatea a Rangi” woven into it. A large panel in memory of Mrs Kiri Matahiki, has also been done, using some of her own purple and green dyed kie kie with the traditional colours.

Several of the traditional patterns were used. Some of them including the roimata stitches, roimata turuturu and roimata toroa, which represent the tears of the albatross in an old Maori legend. Inclusion of these stitches in any panel turns it and

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Mrs N. Cross, Tokomaru Bay, at work on the Poutama Porourangi panel.

the room in which it is housed into a memorial. Poutama, man's span of life in steps, and also the East Coast version, Poutama Porourangi, and Papa Kirango, the fly-catcher design of swats and black flies are among the other panels not pictured.

The people of Tokomaru Bay have every reason to be proud of their work, which is a magnificent example of group work, and patience. The result is a room of great artistic value and an inspiration to all those interested in the fostering of Maori Art.

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PATIKI: The design of the Milky Way and the flounder (Coal Sack).

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The initials of the Tokomaru Bay District High School against the outline of the high hill which backs the school, “Toi Roa”. An example of European style art interpreted in the Maori manner.

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A design by a local woman, Mrs Ngoi Pewhairangi, only partly finished. Above it is part of the Takitoru panel which depicts some of the history of the Ngati Porou people.