Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Talking about Tukutuku

When I called in to visit the very beautiful Ngati Kahungunu Marae in the tiny Eastland village of Nuhaka back in May, I was particularly drawn to the stunning tukutuku panels that lined the walls of the main wharenui (meeting house). They seemed more intricate and more elaborate than most I had seen previously and my lovely host that morning – the marae caretaker, Cairo Otene – let me take photographs of them. Two of those are shown above.
But then I remembered the equally memorable Whare Runanga on Northland’s Waitangi Treaty Grounds. There too, I had been captivated by the tukutuku (above and below). In this case, the panels lining the walls represent all the iwi (tribes) of New Zealand, with their individual patterns record the stories of individual hapu. Tukutuku I should point out, refers to the intricate lattice work panels that are almost always found in Maori meeting houses. They are made by weaving horizontal battens to a backing of vertical poles (toetoe reeds for example) with dyed or bleached harakeke (flax) or kiekie and the yellow-orange pingao fibre, in detailed and distinctive patterns. Often the battens are painted to introduce another element to the overall design. The making of tukutuku panels has traditionally been women’s work
There are many traditional tukutuku designs that represent various objects. A diamond shape for instance can represent the patiki or flounder (fish) and zigzag patterns the kaokao or ribs. A triangle is called niho taniwha, or monster’s teeth – a taniwha is said to be a mythical sea or river monster in Maori lore. In the Waitangi Whare Runanga, the tukutuku panels (like the carved poupou) are arranged in pairs down opposite sides of the house, each pair the work of a different iwi group.

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