Collective to recreate 200-year-old traditional sail

By Tumamao Harawira

A Northland collective of weavers is recreating a modern version of a flax sail used by Māori centuries ago. The weavers are using old Maōri techniques to replicate the complex weaving found on a sail known as Te Rā, which has been housed in a British Museum for over 200 years.

Four years ago they travelled to England to inspect Te Rā and that's where the idea came to make a recreation. According to one of the weavers, Ruth Port, the problem was there was no information about the sail or how it was made.

"It is thought Captain Cook may have collected her because the British Museum received the sail from the British Admiralty. But they have no idea when there's no record, there's really nothing to get categorically prove how the sail got there," Port said.

"What we've learned from Te Rā is that nothing is simple. Every single skill that we've unlocked and discovered is complex."

The panels are bound together by hono and the sail is adorned with feathers and dogskin.

Maikara Ropata says they stayed true to the materials used in the original. "Everything is flax. Flax and wood are Mānuka. There are also pigeon feathers, dogskin, and kākā feathers."

Port says what the team found were techniques that are rarely used today.

"Not only the hono being a takitahi one, which is over one under one, and most hono you see today are takirua on whāriki and they're called maurua, which means using the under two over two methods. But also then we've got this beautiful pūareare zigzagging that goes right through the hono itself."