A tale of three kete and a puhi ariki

Image: Three kete, 2020.

Three beautiful kete by kairaranga Muna Lee (Te Ati Awa, Taranaki Tuturu) have been welcomed into the Angela Morton Room Te Pātaka Toi Art Library. These taonga, inspired by early Māori association with Takapuna, grew from an earlier commission where Muna wove a replacement puhi ariki for the two metre long waka taua which rests in the Room.

Image: Paul Estcourt. Courtesy of New Zealand Herald archive, 3 August 2010, New Zealand Herald.

The waka taua (war canoe) was carved by four inmates of Auckland Prison at Paremoremo as part of an exhibition and charity auction held at Mairangi Arts Centre in 2010. It was made from 30,000 year old kauri and tōtara wood recovered from a swamp during the building of Ngawha Prison. The auction of prisoner’s work raised $7495 for their nominated charity Victim Support. Over 80 items were shown including paintings and carved patu, wall panels and walking sticks. The North Shore City Council bought the waka taua for display in local libraries, in support of the prisoner’s kaupapa to develop as artists and to create and implement community projects that enhance and uplift the region.

Image: Paul Estcourt, courtesy of New Zealand Herald Archive, 3 August 2010, New Zealand Herald.

In 2012, while on display in Takapuna Library, the original chicken-feathered puhi ariki which trailed from the taurapa (stern post) went missing, and in 2016 Erika Muna Lee wove a replacement. She used toroa (albatross) feathers because she felt that our large seafaring bird was appropriate to the journey of the waka. Muna extracted the muka and plied the strands then wove a three strand whiri (plait), and she pelted the toroa herself. The morning after Muna attached her puhi ariki to the taurapa, the original puhi ariki reapppeared trailing alongside the new.

Image: Two puhi ariki, the original chicken feather one and Muna Lee’s with toroa feathers.

This year, Muna wove the Kete Kūmara, Kete Pīngao and Kete Kiekie which are on permanent display in the Angela Morton Room.

Image: Kete Kūmara, 2020.

The Kete Kūmara has a rau (leaf) pattern, representing the kūmara gardens that were once located in the area; and also representing the abundance of kai - kai for the body, and knowledge and wisdom for the mind. Muna said the red-dyed harakeke in the kete speak to the flowering of the Te Uru Tapu/sacred grove of 26 pōhutakawa trees at the northern end of Takapuna Beach near The Promenade. These trees are a significant cultural heritage site. They form a continuous living link to the ancestors of tangata whenua, and are evidence of early Māori occupation of this stretch of foreshore, having been planted 300-400 years ago. Some iwi who have historical and cultural links to Takapuna Beach include Ngāti Whātua o Orākei, Te Kawerau a Maki and Ngāi Tai Ki Tāmaki.

Image: Unknown photographer. Pohutukawa of the Sacred Grove, northern end of Takapuna Beach, 1901. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, T0257.

It was the custom for ancestors’ bodies to be placed in the fork of these pōhutakawa, and when decomposition was complete the skeletal remains were relocated to a safe haven. The decaying nutrients of the ancestor would ultimately be taken up by the host tree and therefore would become the ancestor, meaning the tree in its entirety became tapu/sacred. Historically, travellers passing the trees placed floral tributes at the foot or hung garments in the branches as a mark of respect, and to ensure safe travels.

Image: Kete Pīngao, 2020.

The Kete Pīngao’s rich colour is natural, and it has a miro handle of rolled twine. Pīngao is a sand-binding sedge that is only found in Aotearoa. Muna said pīngao is classed as weaver’s gold, it used to grow prolifically along the coastline but is now present in a few remnant populations or where active replanting programmes have been established. “To honour this material, I wanted to create a kete without cutting any of it away,” she said, hence the beautiful leaf tails that trail this kete. She used a takitahi pattern along with whakapuare - openings in the weave. “Whilst the whakapuare are decorative for this kete, they are useful for a more practical bag as you can gather your seafood, put it in the water and wash it out with the water filtering through the openings.”

Image: Kete Kiekie, 2020

The Kete Kiekie was made from kiekie and blue-dyed harakeke. It has a wahi rua pattern. “This pattern speaks of two different spaces coming together,” said Muna. “It references the Te Uru/sacred grove and that era of Māori living in the area; and the present day.” However, Muna said an endless interpretation is open to the viewer, such as the joining together of Te Ao Wairua and Te Ao Kikokiko (the spiritual world and the physical world), and Te Ao Mārama and Te Pō (the world of light and the world of darkness).

The kete and waka taua are available to view daily in the Angela Morton Room, along with prints by John Pule and Betty Curnow, and photography by Edith Amituanai. All these treasures are held within the embrace of patterns painted on the surrounding glass walls and windows by Tracey Tawhiao.

Author: Leanne

Angela Morton Room Te Pātaka Toi Art Library, Takapuna Library

Instagram: @angelamorton.room


Arts Access Aotearoa: https://artsaccess.org.nz/insdeout-showcases-prison-art

Channel magazine, August 2010, “Inside Out.”

NZ Herald, 5 August 2010, “Prisoners hobby room art benefits crime victims.”

North Shore Times Advertiser, 6 March 2010, “Artworks from prisoners is showcased.”

North Shore Times Advertiser, 8 December 2010, “Prisoners’ art raises $7450.”

Rangitoto Observer, 15 March 2015

Takapuna Beach Reserve Management Plan 2013