Hetet School of Māori Art: Great-granddaughters of master weaver upholding her legacy

By Marena Mane

Dame Rangimārie Hetet, of Ngāti Maniapoto, was a renowned master weaver who revived the traditional Māori craft of weaving, which was on the verge of extinction in the 1990s.

Her legacy lives on at the Hetet School of Māori Art, where her grandchildren and great-granddaughters continue to weave, teach and protect the ancient Māori art form of rāranga.

Lillian Hetet Owen, great-granddaughter of Dame Rangimārie and director of the Hetet School of Māori Art, says the school - based in Waiwhetū, the Hut Valley home of their mother's people - has students from all over Aotearoa and the world.

“We have a lot of people who have joined us from Australia and as far away as the UK, a lot of people from around the motu,” she says.

What sets them apart from the mainstream, according to Owen, is that students do not have to commit to an academic year to work towards a degree. Instead, they may do it in their own time and online, which allows people with hectic schedules and those living abroad to participate.

“This is for us a way that we can bring our expertise to a wider range of people and far locations that couldn't normally come to them with us in our studios.”

Rangimārie Hetet:

Dame Rangimārie is remembered as a gentle, humble, young-at-heart woman with an interest in politics.

“I remember visiting her once in hospital, she was 97 and she said to me, ‘Dear, get me out of here there are too many old people,'” says Owen.

Owen says her parents spent their entire marriage upholding the mana of these traditional arts by founding the first marae-based training programme for long-term unemployed Māori.

“That was the life-work to uphold the mana of these traditional arts, which was really the kaupapa of Nana Rangimārie, our kuia … She composed a waiata for her mokopuna encouraging us to uphold the acts of our people for the good of the people of Aotearoa and the world.”