FRAME|WORK: A Māori cloak

FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, we feature an exemplary Māori cloak from the Museums’ inaugural collections (currently on display at the de Young) in honor of the October Artist-in-Residence, Māori weaver Glenda Joyce Hape.

Chief's cloak, 19th century. Polynesia, New Zealand, North Island, West Coast, Wanganui region, Māori people. Flax, kiwi feathers, and commercial wool. Gift of M. H. de Young. 41520

This feather cloak was worn by renowned Māori chief Mita Taupopoki (ca. 1845–1935) during a tour of Australia, the United States, and England in 1910–1911. While in England, Taupopoki attended the coronation of George V and took part in the Festival of Empire celebrations. Feather cloaks like this one were worn over the shoulders on top of western clothing such as a suit or dress.

Hand-woven from flax fiber and covered with kiwi bird feathers, this cloak is called a kakahu kiwi. According to Hape, the taniko side border “is a decorative Māori weaving technique used to create geometric patterns.” Hape goes on to describe the weaving method employed to create this cloak: “The kaupapa (base) is made of muka (flax fiber) finely woven using the technique of whatu aho vua (double pair twining) in which four cords (two pairs) are used for each weft.”

These labor-intensive cloaks were often considered personal taonga, or treasures. In contemporary contexts, according to Hape, this type of garment would be worn in honor of special occasions such as graduations.

“Typically, we place kakahu (cloaks) on the tupapaku (the coffin of the deceased). If the cloak is placed right-side-up [as one would wear it] that means it is to go with the tupapaku. Cloaks are also often used to cover a headstone until the unveiling occurs.” Māori families maintain these cherished cloaks for generations.

Glenda Joyce Hape will be working in the Artist Studio Wednesdays–Sundays, 1:00–5:00 p.m. and Fridays, 6:00–8:45 p.m. Stop by to learn more about Hape's artistic process and the Māori cloak, on view in the Gallery 31.