Korowai are fine flax cloaks decorated with tassels. Find out how this elegant style developed from the functional rain cape, and be introduced to a few key forms.
Development of korowai
Korowai (tasselled cloaks) developed from pake (rain capes). Pake were covered with flat leaf strips that had a practical purpose – to channel rain off the cloak and keep the wearer dry. Innovative weavers transformed these practical strips into elegant tassels. Korowai take their name from korokoro (loose) and wai (water, or flowing). Distinctive hukahuka (tassels) cascade down these garments, rippling and swaying with the wearer’s every movement.
Materials for making tassels
At first, weavers made the tassels by rolling several threads of muka (flax fibre) into a single cord, which they typically dyed black with paru (iron-rich mud). Some of these older korowai have since lost their tassels, especially because paru tends to degrade natural fibres over time. Weavers also experimented with other types of tassel and adornment. In the mid 1800s, they began to make tassels from wool and other materials introduced by European settlers.
Types of korowai
Often, the name of the decoration became the name of the cloak. ‘Karure’ refers both to tassels made of three strands, which appear to be unravelling, and to the cloak decorated with these tassels. Ngore is the name for pompoms, usually of red wool, and for cloaks decorated with these pompoms.
Sounds of korowai – pihepihe
Some hukahuka make a distinctive sound as they wearer moves. Pokinikini are small cylinders of dried flax, which adorn a type of korowai called pihepihe. They rustle and clatter in rhythm with the wearer’s movements.