Rediscovering Māori tapa cloth practice

By Kimiora Kaire-Melbourne

Ngāpuhi and Te Rarawa descendant Nikau Hindin is a university student who is passionate about the revival of traditional practices and, over the past year, has worked tirelessly to research traditional knowledge around the process of making Māori tapa cloth.

Hindin has delved in to every aspect of making Māori tapa cloth.  

She has made the tools to beat, learnt the process, and even grown aute plants specifically for making tapa cloth. 

Her journey to rediscovering Māori tapa started in 2013 while studying fine arts and Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawai'i.  While learning the process of beating kapa, the head of her faculty, Maile Andrade, told her how Māori had once beat tapa as well.  Having never heard this information before, she was intrigued and determined to find out more.

At that point, she submitted a research proposal to the Auckland Museum who threw their support behind the kaupapa, giving her the inaugural Sir Hugh Kawharu Scholarship to help with her research.

However with limited knowledge available on Māori tapa, the project has been no easy feat.

She says, “There are 14 beaters found in New Zealand (North Island) and made from New Zealand native woods and these are at various museums and I looked at the nine in the Auckland Museum.  Roger Neich has done an amazing study that pretty much collected all the remaining information there was left on Māori aute and these beaters.  One thing he didn't or couldn't look into much detail was the production process, so that's where I come in.  I (roughly) replicated these Māori beaters and have been working with an aute plant down at Dante Bonica's workshop near Waipapa marae. I've also been trying to source other aute plants too.”

After making enough beaters and gathering enough resources, she was then able to hold “wānanga aute” to share the knowledge with her peers and ultimately help the practice to grow and gain recognition as an indigenous Māori practice.

Hindin says, “We must acknowledge, that this is the first time in over 100 years, this land has heard the sounds of people beating aute collectively.”

Hindin is set to hold a public demonstration along with her peers at Aotea Square tomorrow (Thursday 12 November) between 11am-1pm.

“I wanted to do a public demo because resources are so limited at this stage - I've only been able to have little wānanga with about seven people max and also there is only so much bark I can strip from the tree to process.  By taking this practice into a public space I want to expose more people to it, give people the opportunity to come, down check it out and have a yarn really.  Maybe add their own kōrero because I am still learning and other people might have something to contribute to the puzzle; also the sounds,” says Hindin.

Although she has carried out this project to ultimately revive and sustain the practice, she believes her work has a bigger role to play.

“I think the most important thing I've learnt is the importance of revitalising traditional knowledge for Māori as a way of decolonising ourselves, expanding our Māori identity and connecting to our tūpuna through physically replicating their movements and practices. And this does't just apply to beating tapa, engaging yourself with any art form, whether that is carving, playing taonga pūoro, voyaging and speaking the reo.  All of these practices nurture our Māori identity, make us feel more at home in our own land and makes us feel accomplished.  It's pretty holistic and I think it’s about making these kinds of things accessible to those who are looking for a more meaningful connection to this land, even if they aren't Māori.”