Kaitaka are the fine flax cloaks of chiefs, made from top-quality muka (flax fibre) and bordered with tāniko (geometric patterning). Woven into them is a story of great artistry and innovation.
A chiefly cloak
Māori made prestigious kaitaka during the 1700s and until the mid 1800s. These chiefly cloaks were known as parawai in Whanganui.
The magnificence of kaitaka lay in their extremely fine weaving, lustrous sheen, and intricate borders of tāniko (geometric patterning). The sheen came from the high-quality muka (flax fibre) used to make them. The borders provided a striking contrast with the rest of the cloak, which was unadorned.
Early European collectors, as well as Māori, coveted kaitaka because of their beauty and status. But with increasing European influences, the form began to decline. Few remain today.
Weaving a kaitaka could take as long as 2 years - a painstaking task.
First, the weaver extracted and processed the muka from specially selected varieties of harakeke (New Zealand flax, Phormium tenax
). They then wove this fibre, with its silky texture and golden sheen, into a remarkably fine and even foundation.
Borders of tāniko
Most kaitaka were undecorated except for their tāniko borders.
Tāniko is a distinctly Māori variation of twining - a finger-weaving technique used throughout the world. Innovative Māori weavers developed this form by introducing multicoloured strands. They twined these in combinations of full and half twists to make intricate patterns.
The power of kaitaka
Kaitaka feature in many ancestral stories.
The story of renowned leader and composer Te Rangi Topeora, of the tribes Ngāti Toa Rangatira and Ngāti Raukawa, illustrates the power that a cloak gains from the status of its owner. When Topeora threw her kaitaka over her lover, the mana (prestige) of the garment protected him from a rival’s claims.