Dame Rangimārie Hetet was the most renowned Māori weaver of last century. Her radical approach to teaching weaving in the 1950s helped revitalise an art form in serious decline.
From a family of weavers
Rāngimarie Hetet was born in 1892 at Ōparure, Te Kuiti, the daughter of Charles Hursthouse, a Pākehā (European) railway surveyor, and Mere Te Rongopāmamao, from the iwi (tribe) Ngāti Maniapoto.
Mere had learned the art of weaving from her own mother and in turn passed that knowledge on to Rangimārie, who would later pass it on to her children.
Rangimārie married Tūheka Taonui Hetet at 18, and they raised three children. After her husband died in 1938, she returned to Ōparure.
A radical revival – teaching to all
In the 1950s, Māori weaving was in serious decline. The Maori Women’s Welfare League asked Rangimārie to pass on her weaving knowledge to those who wished to learn.
In a radical move, Rangimārie, with her daughter Diggeress Te Kanawa, decided to depart from the customary restriction of teaching only within one’s own tribe. As Rangimārie said, ‘How is our art going to survive if we're going to do that?’ Their approach opened up the art form to a much wider group.
A weaving legacy – māwhitiwhiti
Rangimārie's work was distinguished by her use of natural materials, her fine and meticulous weaving, and her often innovative design.
Her use of the māwhitiwhiti (cross-over pattern) has become part of the Hetet family’s weaving legacy. Those taught by Rangimārie, Diggeress, and their students acknowledge their tutors by carrying on this pattern.
The Waikato Museum is the kaitiaki (guardian) of Rangimārie's work.
Rangimārie was honoured with many awards for her contributions to the arts. These included an MBE in 1973, an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Waikato in 1986, and a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1992.
Rangimārie died in 1995, aged 103.