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Object: Käkahu with feathers and wool (cloak)

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Title Käkahu with feathers and wool (cloak)
Production Unknown (weaver), 1860-1900, New Zealand
Medium summary wool, muka, male ring-necked pheasant feathers, pukeko feathers
Materials muka, feather, wool
Classification kakahu, cloaks
Technique twining, hand sewing
Dimensions Overall: 1080mm (Length) x 1270mm (Width)
Overall: 1260mm (Width) x 1100mm (Length)
Registration number ME015747

This unique kakahu (cloak) of feathers and wool, is distinctive for its four playing card symbols and partly-formed letters embroidered in wool. According to some scholars, playing card symbols were used as religious imagery by some iwi and were also used in other art forms.

The letters

If this cloak was worn around the body, the letters would have appeared upside down. The unpicked letter in the middle may have been an ‘H’, while the partially unpicked, back-to-front red ‘N’ continues to perplex researchers. Multicoloured wool in ornamental two-ply twists form five arrow-like designs above the playing card symbols.


Along with other Maori and Pacific items, this kakahu was discovered in a saturated box in the basement of the New Zealand High Commission in London after a flood in 1984. Valerie Carson, then textile conservator for the National Museum of New Zealand, happened to be in London at the time and was asked to inspect the items. Carson recommended that the artefacts be returned to the museum, where they could be conserved and properly cared for; this took place that year.


Feathers border all four sides as well as forming unusual triangular shapes in the body of the kakahu. The bluish-black feathers are from the lower belly of the pukeko, and the brown, cream and black feathers are from various parts of the male common pheasant.


The kaupapa (foundation) of the kakahu is muka (flax fibre) twined in whatu aho rua (double-pair weft twining). It measures six whenu (vertical threads) per centimetre, with 8 mm spacing between each aho (horizontal, or weft) row. There are 124 rows of whatu aho rua, with 562 whenu across the commencement, or lower edge, of the cloak.

The only aho poka (dart) starts at the sixty-fifth aho row from commencement, continuing to shorten for seven consecutive rows as simple elliptical inserts in the middle of the cloak.

The cloak is completed at the top with a double whenu spiral finish.

The wool is a combination of rows of looped and ornamental two-ply twists in lavender, orange, green, black and red. The decorative twists are combinations of green and yellow, lavender and orange, and blue and red.

Based on an excerpt from chapter 6 of Whatu Kakahu|Maori Cloaks, edited by Awhina Tamarapa, © Te Papa Press 2011.

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Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.