Traditional Maori Clothing
Symbol and Support to Cultural Identity

Even though these days Maori clothing is typical to the twenty-first century, there are still glimpses of the beautiful traditional clothing accessorized with pounamou and bone carvings in many formal events. Wearing traditional clothes in official ceremonies plays an important role in their cultural identity.

Maori clothing

When Maoris emigrated from a warmer climate, into a colder and rainier land, Aotearoa today New Zealand, their ancestors had to become very resourceful with the materials at hand. In order to adapt to rougher nature forces two types of garments progressed. Here are some examples of how the Maori incorporated materials found.

One was a knee long kilt like garment held by a waistband called puipui. Men had the more ornate designs on their waistband with geometric patterns in black and white opposing the plain belt of the woman’s one.


The Making of Maori Clothing

The following Youtube clip gives practical insights in the processes involved in making a piupiu.

The higher priced garment was a cloak that was worn around the shoulders. Its various names reflected its use and the material of decoration. Softened fibres of New Zealand flax were the first choice of material to weave the base called kakahu . A Korowai was a cloak decorated with tassles. Incorporated woven ornaments with coloured fibres found their expression in the name Kaitaka. Kahu huruhuru signified the use of feathers while dog fur decoration changed its name into Kahu kuri. A pure practical use withheld the pake. It functioned as a raincoat where a woven flax base got close rows of flax tags attached.

A cloak can be used to protect not only against nature forces but as well provide with its symbolic power protection against human forces. This Youtube clip published by the New Zealand museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, in Wellington recounts a historic example.

Incorporated feathers in Maori clothing were from many native birds, including the now extinct moa, our native kiwi bird, hui, kereru or tui bird. These are only some, follow this link to a clip of the Te Papa museum and learn about how a variety of feathers is used to give a cloak its character and how weavers use feathers to sign their work.

Dying the fabrics created by these materials was done by colouring them in paru (a mud like substance) giving a black colour, or by raurekau bark which made a yellowish colour and a tan colour was provided by tanekaha bark.

NZ saying

Maori men and women accessorize their Maori clothing with beautiful carved pendants. Often the pendant became the shape of a tiki carved in greenstone (New Zealand jade). Greenstone was also the material used by men to carve weapons. Shark teeth became earrings worn by women.

Using the supplies available to them Maori created fashion statements that are still around today. All public celebrations begin with a Kapa Haka performance in traditional Maori clothing as part of New Zealnd's multi cultural background.

At official ceremonies women wear under the puipui a pari. This forms a top and under skirt. Usually linen is used which is decorated in cross stitch in the colours white, black and red. The ornaments are based on oblongs and squares and the design starts off from the centre.

Places with extensive exhibits are, among others, the Auckland Museum and the Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington the capital of New Zealand along with exhibitions of their fascinating history, their mythology and their culture.


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