Kahu kuri (dog-skin cloaks) were the most prestigious Maori cloaks before the kuri (Pacific dog) became extinct in the mid to late 1800s. Find out why these cloaks were so prized, how they were made, and by whom.
A cloak of chiefs
Kahu kuri were the war cloaks of chiefs. They were made from the prized hide and hair of the kuri, a Pacific breed of dog.
Maori greatly valued these dogs, which the first settlers brought to Aotearoa New Zealand 800 or 900 years ago. They used them for hunting, as pets, and as a source of food and pelts for chiefs.
According to oral traditions, the kuri personified Irawaru, brother-in-law of the demigod Maui. Many kuri had their own name and whakapapa (genealogy), as did the cloaks made from them.
Early European records of kahu kuri
Kahu kuri were so precious that when British explorer James Cook first visited Aotearoa New Zealand in 1769, Maori could not be persuaded to part with them.
When English artist George French Angas painted Maori rangatira (chiefs) around 70 years later, some wore these high-status garments.
Making kahu kuri - the domain of men
Men, rather than women, prepared the dog skins and sewed the cloaks - a very labour-intensive process.
Some kahu kuri were made by stitching whole skins together; others by sewing strips of skins onto a woven foundation. Using strips was more economical than using precious complete skins, especially as the kuri became scarce. The maker arranged the strips close together, with the hair lying in the same direction and covering the stitching - a technique that made the cloak look like a single fur.
The kurupatu (collar) was made from strips of hide threaded together separately, then sewn onto the neck of the garment.
Little is known about how the skins were prepared for sewing, but the process may have involved some form of tanning or wind-drying. Men used shards of obsidian rock to cut the prepared skins into narrow strips.
Extinction of the kuri
But by the 1870s, the kuri had become extinct, and kahu kuri were no longer made. Today, these cloaks are very rare.