The Tāniko Wall-Hanging
‘That's what they call tanneeko, Marge,’ said the woman in the orange hat. ‘The natives used to do it with two pegs stuck in the ground.’ Orange hat was a formidable weatherbeaten woman with a loud voice.
Her companion, younger and softer and less didactic or more ignorant, gazed in silence for a moment.
The Papakirango Community Centre was showing an exhibition of crafts of all kinds, Maori, Pakeha and Women's Institute. More people were beginning to drift in now. A few were Maori, or Polynesian anyhow.
‘I wouldn't mind a panel of that, Allie, for a feature wall in my lounge when I re-do it,’ Marge said thoughtfully. ‘But not those coarse colours. Red and yellow and black. I'd have autumn tonings and a teeny touch of green.’
‘You'd do better to choose a nice painting. You'd never get them to do exactly what you wanted. Forget it, Margery,’ said orange hat.
‘You could be right, Allie. When I look into it—mind you, the actual work's quite well done—I see, not exactly mistakes—sort of changes in style—new patterns all the time. No order or system of repeats. I wouldn't want that.’
‘And look at this bit—it's tighter than the rest.’ Allie sounded quite cross. ‘And some of it kind of faded. You'd think they'd appreciate the need for unity and conformity.’
They turned slightly to watch a lithe Maori woman go by. She wore a brown and gold fringed poncho and jeans and the two little girls with her were minor replicas.
‘I see you are interested in our tāniko wall-hanging ladies.’
The women swung round at the sound of a man's voice, deep, well-educated. They saw a good-enough-looking man of perhaps forty, either Maori or deeply sunburnt. He wore a tweed hat, fishing fly tucked in the band, sports coat, hairy turtleneck sweater, and, even more regrettably, plaited leather sandals on bare brown feet. He took off his hat and smiled at them.
The voice and the gesture won out over the turtleneck and the feet and they half smiled back, only half as they were a little afraid he was going to try to sell them the tapestry.
‘You have observed that it doesn't hang together design-wise as you might have expected. I couldn't help hearing your comments.’
Allie bridled and Margery blushed slightly.
‘They were perspicacious, if I may say so.’
Both women looked gratified.
‘Modes employed range on this piece from classical through transitional to modern, with outcrops of free style and a pre-classical finale. It was crafted over a period of years by a Maori princess, Aahua Katau, and indeed may not yet be finished.
‘You may be interested to hear her story.’
It appeared they would, that is if he could spare the time. He wasn't selling, thank goodness. They all settled down on a wooden bench in front of the tapestry.
‘Aahua was the daughter of a chieftain, and not only had received an excellent education in a private school, learning mathematics, home cooking, languages not her own, and how to play piano up to grade six, but had been taught the Maori women's arts of weaving and plaiting by an ancient teacher who was both holy and expert.
‘When at eighteeēn Aahua became engaged to be married to Ati Raukawa, a fine upstanding young schoolteacher of equally good family, and like her of predominantly Maori blood, she began what she thought of as her lifetime masterpiece, a tāniko wall-hanging for her drawingroom.
‘But what with the usual duties of wedded
bliss which included giving birth to four lusty boys early in their marriage, being secretary of the local branch of the Maori Women's Welfare League, and weaving tāniko belts and spectacle cases for church bazaars, the great opus moved but slowly, sometimes untouched for months at a time.
‘It took her fifteen years to reach this point here. You will notice these are aramoana and allied patterns and in the main, classical work and well executed. Then these diamonds are the two-mouth design—they were done after the birth of their second child. Later we see a tiny alphabet when the eldest boy started at his father's school. You can read there the story of their life that it has been good—the days calm, and what sorrows had come coped with by the family, a well-wrought vessel sailing over life's ocean path.
‘But now—what happens? See! on the back in the middle: a knot. Aahua has misjudged the length of yarn needed for a red weft. And here are three warps missed, in this and the next row.’
‘Oh well, everybody has their off days,’ said Margery.
‘But then comes a proliferation of new patterns. An extra colour is brought in as a beautiful ornamental weft.
‘This was the moment when Brendan Lynwood came to Papakirango. Son of a prosperous city manufacturer, his wife of twelve years had left him just before they were due to fly for three weeks to Sydney so she could stock up on clothes and he could take a look at the Snowy River Scheme. Now he felt a backblocks holiday, shooting, fishing and reading, would tide him over. A friend in the Electricity Department arranged for him to live in a cottage belonging to the department and not far from the schoolteacher's home. Both were set apart from the other houses of the township.
‘One sunny afternoon Brendan Lynwood burst out of the bush and ran down the grass slope towards the boundary of his domicile. As his eyes adjusted to the light, they fell upon a wondrous scene: Aahua in a bright cotton sundress, her hair moving in the breeze, her arms full of flax flowers, bullrushes, and sweetscented karetu.
‘Immediately Brendan lost all memory of his pretty though rather waspish defaulting wife.
‘Aahua in her turn marvelled at this tall young god of the forest, his corncoloured hair a lighter gold than the skin of his body where the sun had kissed it. Neither the bloodied hunk of vension sticking out of his pack and covered with his shirt nor the dirty bleeding cut on his shin detracted from her amiable first impression.
‘Aahua spoke first, her voice not quite steady but filled with concern. “You've hurt your leg. I'll fix it up for you. Come with me.”
‘As they went through her gate, she snipped off three long red roses and put them with the grasses she carried, putting the whole collection into a silver ewer when they entered the house.
‘No other soul was present, Ati being on a teacher's course, and the boys at a Scout Camp, but warm hearts wait not on etiquette. Aahua cleaned and bandaged Brendan's wound, and an hour later they were eating fresh grilled venison steaks, followed by strawberries they'd plucked together from her garden.
‘The two found they had much in common and she offered to lend him a book, a cherished volume kept in the front room.
‘It was then he saw the tāniko as it waited for its creator to continue. Brendan was interested in weaving, having built a loom for a friend of his mother's long ago in his schooldays.
‘He returned the book on the morrow, and thus began the golden days that were left to them. They talked or were silent, content in action or in stillness. They sauntered through the bush, lay in the sun, swam in the pool Pungarehu under the waterfall at the edge of hill or settled at their ease in front of a log fire, Aahua working often at the tāniko, Brendan watching her deft movements.
‘What wonder that love should strike root in their hearts and as swiftly burgeon? A love that was quite unlike the soft steady moon of her marriage but flaring and searing as of the sun and as hard to withstand.
‘Look now at the weaving of the tāniko.
Her touch after those first stumbling wefts is surer than ever before, but the technique is servant to the inspiration. Sometimes she uses hukahuka in the form of tiny tassels and rare feathers. Sometimes she lets the pattern alone speak: here are aronui triangles in obvious symbolism, teitei for the peaks they had scaled, and the waves of the ocean are crested with fire.
‘Then the love of Aahua and Brendan came to an end. Not because either fell out of love, but because Ati came home and Brendan found him such an agreeable and sympathetic fellow, noble even—a feeling which was mutual—that he knew he could never bring himself to deal out a hurt to such a man …
‘See kaokao—the pattern of the armpits of the receding lover as he strides into the distance. And niko—the teeth of the pain that tore through her soul and body. Likewise papaka for the canker consuming her heart, and roimata, the tears she shed in secret, half-maddened with her anguish.
‘But she learns acceptance and must have practised philosophy for poutama exemplifies man's span of life in steps. Aahua has learned control and that she carries a child beneath her heart.
‘Brendan Lynwood returned to Auckland and the family business. He divorced his wife and married his secretary, happily enough it is said, though he never forgot Aahua of the nimble fingers. What he never knew was that Aahua's fifth child, a girl, born in October of that year, was much fairer than her brothers and reminded Ati of his English grandmother.
‘A new thread enters the tapestry—a tender metallic gold filament woven in with the flax to form a design of exquisite delicacy and grace. Here is a new life joined.’
‘But it stops pretty soon. She surely never did away with the child?’ said orange hat.
‘Allie, she would never have done that. This woman is good through and through. In spite of her impulsive wild lawless love.’
‘How right you are, Madam. Aahua was a loving mother to little Aho. And to her two younger sisters and to the four older boys. People of the district used the expression “a mother as good as Aahua” when they wished to praise a woman.
‘But when Aho was two years old, she learned to run away. She was always found playing by the pool Pungarehu. What strange fascination drew her there? She always came back to this same place even unto the day when she stretched out a small arm to pick a spray of berries hanging out over the water …
‘See: the full weft length of gold has been cut ready to complete the row, and another hangs knotted in and waiting.
‘Now Aahua has taken a few more lengths of gold and woven a tiny span of the traditional patikitiki-papaki-rango—this is the flax fan used to keep flies off a corpse—and then she sadly concealed the ball of golden yarn in her trinket box. Darkness reigns within her heart and in the twisted threads.
‘Now you will observe that for the first time she has prepared her own dyes as women did in days gone by. So the bright colours are muted but the black is deeper than ever for the yarn has been steeped in a mordant and then submerged in the black mud of the swamp. The last warps, loose and empty, await the weaver's hand.’
Margery wiped her eyes surreptitiously.
‘You must forgive me, ladies.’ His tone had changed. ‘There's my wife signalling madly at me from the door.’ On his feet, he pulled his hat from his pocket, bowed slightly, then turned on his heel and made for the entrance where the woman in the poncho waited with the two little girls.
A large smiling lady bore down on the two women still sitting on the form. ‘Oh, how do you do? You're visitors, I think, and especially welcome.’ She shook them by the hand. ‘I'm Joan Adams, convenor of the Patumuka Crafts Club.
‘I see you're looking at the club's sampler. Everyone who's done the full year's course in tāniko weaving is encouraged to do a section on the sampler. Seven of us have had a hand in it so far. We'll have to start a new one soon. There's only room for a couple more.’
The women were speechless.
‘You're surprised how good we are! That was Mr Tinihanga you were talking to. His wife Aahua is our instructress.’