Hokimate Harwood, Te Papa’s Bicultural Science Researcher, is breaking new ground in her research on kahu huruhuru (feather cloaks) in the collection. Learn about her innovative methods and exciting discoveries.
Breaking new ground
Hokimate Harwood, of the iwi (tribe) Ngāpuhi, draws on both customary Māori knowledge and scientific knowledge and practices in her research on Te Papa’s kahu huruhuru (feather cloaks).
Of Te Papa’s 300-plus cloaks, more than a third include feathers, and Hokimate has identified the feathers in all of them. They come from many species - between one and eight in each cloak - and from many parts of those birds.
Hokimate brings a unique combination of skills and knowledge to her work. As she says, 'Having that scientific knowledge, and background in birds in particular, has helped me in my job. And being Māori has helped with working with taonga - knowing the tikanga [protocols] and reo [language] and having that mātauranga [Māori knowledge].'
How Hokimate identified the feathers
- Hokimate first reviewed the literature on the bird species used by Māori. She then created a photographic database of feathers from these birds, using preserved bird skins in Te Papa’s collection.
- She examined the whole feathers of Te Papa’s cloaks - looking at size, shape, patterning, and colour - and compared them with the feathers on the bird skins.
- In a first for this country, she photographed the microscopic detail of down (located at the base of feathers) from New Zealand birds, creating a database of the structures. Using these images for comparison, she could identify the order, family, and sometimes species of cloak feathers that had no distinguishable colour or patterning.
Hokimate identified more than 20 native and 10 introduced bird species in Te Papa's cloaks. Some of the species, including the ruru (morepork) and bittern, had not been recorded in Māori weaving before.
Hokimate also uncovered feathers not noticed previously. These were possibly intended as ‘signatures’ of the weavers or as messages to the wearer.
In the long term, Hokimate wants to trace the geographical origins of Māori cloaks held in museums worldwide. By examining the materials and techniques used in them, she hopes to recover information about the weaver and their iwi (tribe), the intended wearer, and the world in which they lived.