Kites for Matariki

In ancient Māori traditions, kite flying could symbolize the connections between earth and the heavens; kites were flown to celebrates the rising of Matariki and the beginning of the Māori New Year. Because of my interest in building a kite from traditional materials to fly this Matariki, I have been researching Māori kites and kite-making.

Several designs of kites are described in the literature.  For example, the ethnographer Eldson Best in his Games and Pastimes of the Māori (1925) describes six kites, their design and usage. 

Titiri, a Bay of Islands chief who travelled to England, in 1818 drew several pictures of kites.

Ref: 7-A3168, 1818, Sir George Grey Special Collections
In this drawing, the bird-shaped kite is probably a sacred manu aute, with aute bark covering the frame.The diamond-shaped kite is a manu pātiki, built to represent a flounder. The top and bottom kites in this picture are probably ūpoku tangata, children’s kites, made from ūpoku tangata (cutty grass) with a rush frame.

Auckland War Memorial Museum has another form of children’s kite, which is the manu taratahi. This triangular-shaped kite is made with a plumed toetoe frame, covered with dry raupō (bulrush) leaves, joined with harakeke (flax) lashings.  All of these plants can be found in swampy areas.  They were commonly used materials for smaller kites. 

Ref: 2-V504, Thatched raupō hut, 1912, Sir George Grey Special  Collections
Although harakeke and toetoe are common sights in Auckland, I had to look around a bit more for raupō.  Raupō was used extensively by Māori, for example for thatching houses, but as a plant it is not so visible now.  I guess the draining of many swamps for buildings and roads has decreased the habitat for raupō; I was pleased to eventually  find some not far from where I work.

Auckland Libraries has organised an extensive programme of events from Saturday 22 June - Monday 22 July to celebrate Matriki 2013, which includes making traditional manu tukutuku (kites).

Author: Emma Chapman, Central Auckland Research Centre