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Sun striking the ClocktowerFriday 19 October 2018 12:26pm

Donna Cormack Ranui Ngarimu Catherine Smith image
Ms Donna Cormack, Mrs Ranui Ngarimu and Dr Catherine Smith

A University of Otago researcher is part of a group looking to uncover the secrets of the oldest known Māori sail stored at the British Museum.

Dr Catherine Smith, textiles specialist and senior research fellow from the Dodd-Walls Centre and Ms Donna Campbell (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Ruanui), a weaver and senior lecturer in Creative Practice at the University of Waikato, are leading an interdisciplinary team undertaking kaupapa Māori research on Te Rā.

The campaign, supported by a Te Apārangi Marsden Fund grant, is one of the feature stories in the latest edition of the University of Otago Magazine.

One aspect of the project is visiting Te Rā at the British Museum, where they will uncover the unique weaving techniques used on the centuries-old sail, before distributing that knowledge to Māori communities, as well as the wider public.

Te Rā itself has never been previously fully documented or studied. The project aims to advance knowledge of the Māori sail and gain a greater understanding of how Māori voyaged.

“Te Rā has been in storage for 250 years, has probably been visited by 10 New Zealanders in the time it has been there, and has never been fully described,” Dr Smith says.

“We need to document Te Rā and communicate the knowledge contained within her to the wider community so it won't ever be lost again.”

The research team comprises Ngāi Tahu senior weaver Mrs Ranui Ngarimu (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mutunga) who specialises in the repair, restoration, and replication of customary Māori textiles, and Ms Jeanette Wikaira (Ngāti Pukenga, Ngāti Tamaterā, Ngāpuhi) who is undertaking contextual research on sails as taonga. Also involved is Hokimate Harwood (Ngāpuhi), Bicultural Science Researcher from Te Papa, who will identify the feathers used in Te Rā, and San Francisco-based Cultural Heritage Imaging who will create a 3D model.

The group has been bound together by strong connections to research about Māori weaving.

“There are really important taonga that we don't have in New Zealand any more that have been taken away. We're divorced from that knowledge and access to that knowledge,” Dr Smith says.

She says the group is at the beginning of the process and are navigating their way through how the three-year project will play out.

For more information, please contact:

Dr Catherine Smith
Senior Research Fellow
Dodd Walls Centre
University of Otago

For Te Reo Māori interviews, please contact
Mrs Ranui Ngarimu
Senior Weaver
Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

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