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Kahu kurī o awe: Fur cloaks of awe

Power and sacredness in Māori dog skin cloaks
Justine Treadwell

Résumés

Les chiens kurī (nom donné en Nouvelle-Zélande aux chiens polynésiens) ont joué un rôle important dans la vie des Māori, qui utilisaient notamment leurs peaux comme vêtements de prestige, jusqu'à leur disparition au milieu du XIXe siècle. On pense que les kurī ont disparu à force de croisements avec des espèces de chiens venues d’Europe tandis que leur extinction aurait été parachevée par les abattages conduits par les fermiers européens. Amenés des îles du Pacifique sur les waka (canoës) des origines lorsque les ancêtres des Māori débarquèrent en Nouvelle-Zélande vers 1200 après J.-C., les kurī étaient des animaux de compagnie prisés, des compagnons de vie et une source de matériaux, et leur généalogie (whakapapa) était souvent retracée jusqu'à la Polynésie originelle parallèlement à celui de leurs propriétaires. Le whakapapa est l'un des facteurs contribuant au prestige (mana) et au caractère sacré (tapu) d'un être. Ces notions s’incarnaient fortement dans les kurī et fixaient les cadres des relations qu'ils entretenaient avec les humains. L'importance de la généalogie des chiens dans la constitution de ces qualités est étudiée ici en relation avec le rôle que les kāhu kurī (manteaux en peau de chien) jouaient dans la société Māori. Par le biais de l'animisme, il s’agit ici de considérer la circulation fluide du mana et du tapu entre animaux et vêtements. Les Kāhu kurī, aujourd'hui rares car leur fabrication a cessé au milieu du XIXe siècle, sont considérés globalement comme des vêtements de grand prestige et sont associés aux chefs (rangatira). Comment cette association spécifique s'est-elle produite ? Comment, à son tour, a-t-elle influencé la relation entre les kurī et les humains ? Et surtout, dans quelle mesure a-t-elle influencé l'adaptation des tisserands Māori lorsque le kurī est devenu rare ?

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  • 1 Canis pacificus is the scientific name that was given by naturalist Charles Hamilton Smith. It cove (...)
  • 2 Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris, Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History. Wellington (...)
  • 3 Such as candlewick or mop string instead of flax fibre for the body of cloaks.

1Kurī (Polynesian dogs in New Zealand) had great mana (prestige) and tapu (sacredness) in Māori society, and garments made out of dog fur retained this mana and tapu.1 Kahu kurī, or dog skin cloaks, were woven and sewn using skin and fur from kurī, probably from the time of Māori settlement in Aotearoa New Zealand, until the nineteenth century when kurī disappeared. (Fig. 1) The disappearance of kurī is the subject of ongoing research, and fits within a broad context of colonisation — specifically, devastating land loss for Māori, the imposition of British laws and the proliferation of colonial agriculture. However, given the resilience and adaptability of other Māori art forms, it is not to be expected that dog skin cloaks died out when kurī did. Adaptation to new materials is a Māori tradition dating back to the discovery of pounamu (nephrite or greenstone) and pakohe (argillite), sedimentary stones ideal for adze-making and novel for these arrivals from volcanic Pacific islands.2 These materials would have been discovered in the first years of arrival in New Zealand in around c.1200AD. Nineteenth-century weavers, however, did not adapt to using the skin of European dogs, despite seemingly parallel examples of material adaptations.3 These include the use of goat skins in the fabrication of kahu koati (goat skin cloaks), or the use of introduced bird feathers in kahu huruhuru (bird feather cloaks). These issues of genealogy, prestige and sacredness and their material manifestations in dog skin cloaks will be investigated here, in the context of a unique human-animal relationship.

Fig. 1: Mounted kurī in the Otago Museum collection

Fig. 1: Mounted kurī in the Otago Museum collection

Otago Museum, inv. VT2162

Wikimedia Commons. Kane Fleury / © Otago Museum

  • 4 Basil Keane, "What is the Kurī?” Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Last modified November 24, 200 (...)

2Kurī had a profound significance in many facets of pre nineteenth-century Māori life. Descended from the domesticated dogs of Southeast Asia, they were brought with the first Polynesian voyagers to Aotearoa in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In Aotearoa they became bigger and more robust than their ancestors in the Pacific.4 Kurī are now extinct in Aotearoa, probably largely through interbreeding with European introduced breeds, although they may have genetic vestiges in our canine population now. The relationship between humans and kurī is central to the human understanding of kahu kurī (dogs skin cloaks). From a functional perspective, there are many similarities with historic and contemporary Western notions of what dogs are for. As well as companions, kurī were important sources of food, hunting assistants, sentries and guards, as well as sources of fur, bone and teeth. Fundamentally underlying these “uses” were a range of spiritual roles and ancestral origins that ran parallel to their human companions.

  • 5 John White, Ancient History of the Maori. Wellington: Government Printer, 1887, p. 122.
  • 6 Hoani Te Whatahoro, The Lore of the Whare-wānanga: Or Teachings of the Maori College on Religion, C (...)
  • 7 Tony Sole, Ngāti Ruanui. A History. Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2015, p. 19.

3Kurī ancestors were named, and their whakapapa (genealogy or lines of descent) was traced back to Pacific origins. In one oral history, the demi-god Māui extended the ears, nose and limbs of his brother-in-law Irawaru turning him into the first dog.5 In another oral history in Northland, Kupe (who discovered Aotearoa) brought with him as spirit guardians three dogs, called kehua. One of these dogs waited so long and faithfully for Kupe to return from a journey that he turned into stone in the Hokianga Harbour. These dogs guarded the departure of spirits from Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) and are believed to be at the origin of the name of the Ngāti Kurī tribe.6 Many of the first waka (canoes) to New Zealand had stories of kurī. Crucially for this research, the Aotea waka (which brought people to the West Coast of the North Island) was exchanged by its captain Turi for a kahu kurī (that is a garment made of kurī skin) called Pōtaka-tāwhiti. This kākahu (garment) was made from different kurī named: Pōtaka-tawhiti, Kakariki-tawhiti, Whakapapa-tuakura, Matawari-te-huia, Pukeko-whatarangi, Miti-mai-te-rangi, Nuku-te-apiapi and Miti-mai-te-paru.7 This story, set in the ancestral homeland of Hawaiki before migration to Aotearoa, demonstrates the significance of individual named kurī dogs. The exchange of an ocean-going waka, which could be 20 — 30 or more metres long, for a dog skin cloak, demonstrates this significance further. From early oral histories into the nineteenth century, the value of the kurī did not only apply to the dogs while living entities with personalities, but also to their material bodies after death.

1. Theoretical frameworks

  • 8 Paul Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu: An investigation of Taonga from a tribal perspective’. Jo (...)
  • 9 P. Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu’, p. 329.

4Concepts of mana, tapu and whakapapa are critical lenses through which to situate kurī, and garments made from them, in a Māori world view. In his definitive exegesis of the dog skin cloak known as Pareraututu, scholar Paul Tapsell explains this special quality: “Mana: authority; power; prestige; status; integrity; self-esteem; source of energy from the gods transmitted through ancestors; ancestral power embracing people and their estates”.8 Symbiotic with mana is tapu, an ancestrally-charged state requiring separation, restriction or consideration. Adherence to a state of tapu protects mana, a principle known as kaitiakitanga, or guardianship. Both mana and tapu are contingent on whakapapa, genealogy. Mana is amplified through whakapapa, since mana acquired at each generation is bestowed onto the next. Ultimately, both mana and tapu descend from the atua (ancestral deities). The state of tapu enshrouding mana is one of ancestral influence. Importantly, “objects” can have mana and tapu through their association with a person or people. Pareraututu, as discussed later, is Tapsell’s powerful example of this. Other materials or things may have mana and tapu through ancestral association with deities rather than more recent ancestors. Trees, for example, grow in the realm of Tāne (deity of the forest) and therefore have mana through their whakapapa to him. Their tapu is respected and upheld by the reciting of a chant (karakia) to Tāne on the felling of a tree. This kaitiakitanga (guardianship) upholds the tapu. Finally, the principles of mauri expand to cover all things, from human beings to rocks. Mauri is a life force or principle which sustains the form of the entity, and is created by atua, or deities.9

  • 10 See in particular Philippe Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (...)
  • 11 Graham Harvey, Animism: Respecting the Living World. Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2005, p. 64.
  • 12 Christopher Braddock (ed.), Animism in Art and Performance. New York: Springer, 2017.
  • 13 Cassandra Barnett, ‘Te Tuna-Whiri: The Knot of Eels’, in Animism in Art and Performance, edited by (...)

5This Māori ontology of non-human entities and objects has been situated by recent Māori and non-Māori theorists within the sphere of animism. This association may generate uneasiness among contemporary readers. The earliest study of animism has been recognised as a colonial, condescending framework applied to Indigenous and non-Western peoples. However, the usage of animism has been dynamic within the discipline of anthropology. Many scholars in the last 20 years have regenerated elements of it to articulate the complexities of an animated world for different peoples.10 Māori art in particular has been considered through this remodelled lens. In 2005 Religious Studies Professor Graham Harvey wrote in Animism: Respecting the Living World “Māori art is not principally the production of inanimate objects for prestigious display, but the transformation of living persons in and by new relationships”.11 More recently in 2017 artist and scholar Christopher Braddock edited Animism in Art and Performance, which offers Māori perspectives on and relating to animism.12 This text in particular has relevance here, as it applies animism to non-human animals and their body parts.13

  • 14 C. Barnett, ‘Te Tuna-Whiri’, p. 28-30.

6This contemporary animist framework on te ao Māori (the Māori world) is not structured so that non-human entities have human qualities. Rather, it sees that qualities such as mana, tapu and mauri are carried in both human and non-human entities through whakapapa, which does not discriminate on biology.14 The relationships between entities and people can be understood as whanaungatanga — kinship, connections. The way that dog skin cloaks exist within this framework is complex, as they occupy non-human animal, object and human identities. Initially, they are kurī. The kurī who make up these cloaks led lives as animals, relating to and depending on humans but also sustaining, aiding, warming, and protecting them as well as keeping them company. These were hegemonic relationships, like most relationships between human and domesticated non-human animals, where humans determined the kurī’s “use” and arbitrated the constraints and freedoms of their lives. However, this relationship was not simply the mutual-benefit model which generated domestication; qualities like mana and tapu generated through whakapapa dictated human behaviour with kurī too.

2. Kurī after European contact

  • 15 George Forster, A Voyage Round the World: In His Britannic Majesty's Sloop, Resolution, Commanded b (...)
  • 16 Te Papa, inv. 1153635.
  • 17 ‘Review’. New Zealand Times 33, no. 5364 (June 1878), p. 2.
  • 18 ‘Ohinemuri Goldfield’. Thames Advertiser 7, no. 3477 (November 1879), p. 3.
  • 19 ‘Why Did the Maori Dog Kuri Die Out? Scientists Looks for Clues in Old Hair and Bones’. Stuff, last (...)

7Kurī were observed, met and eaten by the crew of Captain Cook’s Endeavour in 1769 and other early European voyagers. They were also encountered in kākahu form (that is as cloaks), with the continuous pelt-like surface of kahu kurī (dog skin cloaks) being mistaken for entire, perhaps bear, skins. (Fig. 2) Kurī were immediately integrated into the hierarchy of the Europeans’ natural world ontology, as lesser than European breeds of dogs. Cook described them as “small and ugly”, his naturalist George Forster described them as “the most stupid, dull animals imaginable” resembling “a common shepherd’s cur” while French voyager Julien Marie Crozet described them as “treacherous” and “feral”.15 Both Cook and Crozet described kurī as fox-like in both looks and temperament. Foxes were of course regarded as vermin in Europe, and offended the propriety of both estate boundaries and henhouses. Europeans persisted with this attitude to kurī into the nineteenth century, and contributed to their extermination through the shooting of kurī by Pākehā (European settler) farmers. Through the process of kurī disappearing in the mid-nineteenth century, packs of “Māori dogs” were described as running wild and perceived as a threat to farming, and Pākehā complained of the dangers of being devoured by kurī when passing Māori villages (pā) inside burgeoning cities. It is now believed the last kurī was killed in the Catlins in 1876, and is taxidermied in Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.16 Despite the fact that “Māori dogs” were observed to be extinct in newspapers as early as 1878, there continued to be grievances published into the twentieth century about “Māori dogs” disturbing farmers. 17One 1879 article from Paeroa describes a group of 40 Māori with “as many mongrel dogs”, and goes on to describe the dogs as “Maori dogs”.18 This is despite the fact that kurī were extinct by this time. This suggests there was, for European settlers, a conceptual confluence of kurī and any dogs owned by Māori, all of which fell paradoxically under the definition of feral. However, isotopic studies by scientists Dr Priscilla Wehi and Dr Karyn Rogers have suggested that kurī diet was contingent on the diet of their owners — that is, kurī ate what their people did.19 If kurī were dependent on their humans, this problematises the notion of kurī as feral and uncontrolled. Instead, it should be considered what domestication and agency might look like in a relationship of entwined whakapapa.

Fig. 2: Engraving by Thomas Chambers of 1769 sketch by Sydney Parkinson showing checkered kahu kurī, 1784

Fig. 2: Engraving by Thomas Chambers of 1769 sketch by Sydney Parkinson showing checkered kahu kurī, 1784

Alexander Turnbull Library, inv. PUBL-0037-15

  • 20 G. Forster, A Voyage Round the World, p. 219 and James Cook, The Voyages of Captain James Cook. Lon (...)
  • 21 This exchange was often with precious materials like tapa cloth from the Pacific, metal and cloth. (...)
  • 22 C.G., (Hokonui), ‘Notes and Queries’, Otago Witness, (December 18, 1890), p. 20.
  • 23 Geoffrey Clark, ‘The Kuri in prehistory : a skeletal analysis of the extinct Māori dog’, unpublishe (...)

8A number of early European voyagers observed that, while kurī were eaten (in which eating the voyagers themselves partook), they were also cherished by Māori. This may have seemed contradictory to the Europeans, however the eating of kurī flesh was of ceremonial importance and reserved for prestigious events and people. Scientist Forster observed that Māori “seemed very fond” of their kurī, they were noted to eat the same food as their owners and Captain Cook remarked that the attachment to kurī rivalled their attachment to their children.20 This attachment was mutual; the mature kurī traded with the Endeavour’s crew became sulky and consistently refused to eat upon being separated from their owners.21 Later accounts during the colonial period confirm these close ties, reporting that Māori were “very fond of their canine friends”.22 Several examples of deliberate kurī burials have been discovered, sometimes accompanying humans, affirming an enduring affinity which extends into whakapapa. In some of these, the heads of the kurī were removed before internment, which archaeologist Geoffrey Clark argues could not have been for subsistence or industrial purposes.23 For Māori, the head is the most tapu part of the body, a value which may have relevance to this pre-burial removal of kurī heads.

3. Fabrication and types of kahu kurī

  • 24 Deidre Brown, Introducing Maori Art. Auckland: Raupo, 2005, p. 26.
  • 25 Famous examples of these are in the British Museum in London (inv. Oc,NZ.125), the Museum of Archae (...)

9Both men and women produced different aspects of kahu kurī (dog skin cloaks). As with most kākahu, the process of weaving the kaupapa (base fabric) of the cloak was undertaken by women.24 With kahu kurī, this process is intricate and time consuming. It begins with the stripping of epidermis and stiff under-leaf of the harakeke (New Zealand flax/Phormium tenax) to extract the muka (silky inner fibre). Muka is then rolled into fine plied cords which form the warps and wefts. For a kahu kurī, the whenu (wefts) are compact with no spacing between them. Wrapping tightly around the thicker wefts, this creates a dense canvas-like fabric. For many kahu kurī, this resulted in a fineness of 7-10 wefts per centimetre. This technique was used to weave pauku or pukupuku, which were cloaks made to protect the wearer in combat. The denseness of the weave made it impenetrable to blows, especially after soaking in water to make the fibres swell. These garments, common in the eighteenth century and collected on some early European voyages, were often adorned with dog skin and fur.25

  • 26 D. Brown, Introducing Maori Art, p. 26.

10The process of sewing the skin onto the woven base (kaupapa) was customarily undertaken by men.26 Rather than stitching large sections or whole pelts of skin onto these bases, the kurī pelts were cut into long thin strips using obsidian blades. These strips could be as long as the kurī’s back, or just a few centimetres long. These strips were sewn individually in parallel onto the base using bone needles, with the nap of the fur running in one direction. The overall visual effect of this is one single pelt. (Fig. 3) There are several reasons why this time-consuming method may have become the norm. There would have been less wastage of pelt, with small sections of skin, as on the legs, dividing into the same width strips. As kurī and their bodily resources were treasured, this frugal use of skin makes sense. The use of strips of skin to make one surface also allows the maker to maintain consistency across the whole rectangular kaupapa. Where animal skins have natural gradients from long to short hair, strips of skin can be used in a more modular fashion. This enables an even distribution of short and long-haired strips across the kaupapa, or the concentration of longer haired strips around the edges of a plush border. Control over the placement of these strips allows a balanced or uniform pile.

  • 27 Elsdon Best, ‘The Art of the Whare Pora: Notes on the Clothing of the Ancient Maori’, in Transactio (...)

11Finally, this modularity of strips instead of large sections of pelt enables the creation of designs using the fur’s colours. Types of kahu kurī are known and named for these designs. Tōpuni have white fur borders with dark brown or black fur centre bodies. Ihupuni have dark borders with white centre bodies. Awarua have vertical stripes of dark and light fur across the kaupapa.27 (Fig. 4) These designs, which conform to the squared geometries of the cloak shape, would be impossible to achieve with the rounded natural shapes of whole pelts. Fine sections of fur with straight edges are needed particularly for borders and stripes. Even for the large single-coloured central panels in tōpuni and ihupuni, blankness requires its own consistency. This also contributes to ideals of fine weaving. Joining large sections of skin together in the central white panel of an ihupuni even with tight joins would leave obvious seams where the fur gradients or nap could not be matched. For weavers with high standards, this patchwork effect would be undesirable. A perfect, homogenous surface is part of the design of these black central panels, and is achievable with the fine unit size of fur strips — and the finest weaving technique.

Fig. 3: Detail of kahu kurī with missing fur revealing the precision of the skin strips

Fig. 3: Detail of kahu kurī with missing fur revealing the precision of the skin strips

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge, UK) on loan to the Tairāwhiti Museum in Gisborne (New Zealand), inv. D 1924.80

© Justine Treadwell, 2020

Fig. 4: Two kahu kurī, one awarua (left) and one tōpuni (right). The Maori, by Elsdon Best, vol. 2, pp. 509

Fig. 4: Two kahu kurī, one awarua (left) and one tōpuni (right). The Maori, by Elsdon Best, vol. 2, pp. 509

New Zealand Electronic Text Collection

12While on the woven base of kahu kurī strips of skin are laid flat and abutting, these strips are often attached differently at the border. Many kahu kurī have loose, fringed borders where the fur appears to be longer and more voluminous. This effect is created using the same skin strips which are sewn onto the base to create a single surface of fur. However, they are attached to the base by only one end, leaving the length of the strip to hang freely. (Fig. 5) These attachments are in dense ruff-like sections, usually at the collar (kurupatu). The design of a dense, plush ruff is repeated on other types of cloaks in other materials. Rain capes (pake or kahu toi) made from thatched plant fibre often have a concentration of longer and thicker fibre at the shoulders. Later types, like korowai (fringed cloaks), often have borders of plied tags (called hukahuka) which are denser at the top. This design creates a silhouette of more dramatic shoulders beneath the head of the wearer. It also visually recalls longer, thicker fur around a dog’s neck and shoulders. It may be that this design further references the idea of a large, single animal skin by visually suggesting that the shoulders of the animal are the shoulders of the kākahu. When sewn in, the amount of fur on each strip visually outweighs the solid skin itself, creating a dominant effect of long, voluminous fur. With the strips of skin lying flat on the base, the volume of the surface is limited by the length of the fur itself. Where the ends of the skin strips are loose, the fur may appear much longer and more voluminous in contrast. As with the invisible seams between the strips of fur on the kaupapa, the discreteness of these loose strips of skin is obfuscated by the fur itself. It appears as though it was one section of animal skin, with long plush fur.

Fig. 5: Detail of kahu kurī showing fur strips sewn around the lower edge

Fig. 5: Detail of kahu kurī showing fur strips sewn around the lower edge

Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge, UK), inv. D 1924.85.16

© Justine Treadwell, 2020

  • 28 E. Best, ‘The Art of the Whare Pora’, p. 644.

13Kahu waero are a rare type of kahu kurī, which have awe (the Māori term for tassles, pronounced ah-weh) made from dog fur.28 This fur was often taken from the underside of the kurī’s tail, where the fur is long and luxurious. Waero means tail, and probably refers to long haired kurī tails; however it could also refer to the fact that the long tassles look like sumptuous tails on the surface of the garment. White kurī, whose fur was used for this purpose, were treasured animals. Missionary William Colenso recorded in 1877:

  • 29 William Colenso, Notes on the Ancient Dog of the New Zealanders. Christchurch: Kiwi Publishers, 187 (...)

The white haired dogs were greatly prized, especially if they had long haired tails, such were indeed objects of envy, and were fitting presents for a king. These dogs were taken the greatest possible care of; they slept in a house on clean mats so that their precious tails should be kept as white as possible. Their tails were curiously and regularly shaved and the hair preserved for ornamental use.29

  • 30 Basil Keane, ‘Decorative Kurī Hair’, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, last modified November 24, (...)
  • 31 Herbert W. Williams, A Dictionary of the Maori Language. Wellington: Government Printer, 1957, p. 2 (...)

14This “ornamental use” (though actually functional) was as awe, which were woven into the collars on the neck of taiaha (carved staffs). These were used to signal, or shaken to distract the eye of the opponent.30 The term awe also refers to power and influence, which is inherent in the use of dog fur on kākahu.31 This use of trimmed fur leaves the kurī unharmed; allowing it to continue a pampered life as a pet of great mana, and also a renewable source of fur.

  • 32 There is mention among weavers of the removal of patches of skin and fur from a living dog and allo (...)
  • 33 Peter Coutts and Mark Jurisich, ‘Canine Passengers in Maori Canoes’. World Archaeology 5, no. 1 (19 (...)

15While the trimming of fur for awe in taiaha or kāhu waero could be undertaken during a kurī’s life, for an actual kahu kurī the kurī’s skin would be needed. This would require the kurī to be killed, although it is possible that kurī who died of natural causes were made into kākahu too.32 Kurī provided not only fur/skin but also bones and teeth for tools and ornaments and meat to eat, so they were as prized post-mortem as in life. Archaeological sites where kurī were butchered for their teeth, bone and fur in Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island of New Zealand) have yielded preserved skin and fur, and suggest a preference for mature rather than juvenile kurī for these resources.33

4. Kahu kurī and rangatiratanga (chiefliness)

  • 34 W. Colenso, Notes on the ancient Dog of the New Zealanders, p. 16.
  • 35 P. Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu’.
  • 36 P. Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu’, p. 340.

16The association between kurī and rangatira (chiefs or leaders) is long acknowledged.34 Kahu kurī are said to be chiefly garments; kurī were often owned by rangatira, and kurī meat was said to be a delicacy for rangatira. Kahu kurī owned by rangatira were passed on to those who inherited the same prestigious whakapapa, which the kahu kurī would embody. One example of this is a kahu mamae (cloak of pain) made from dog skin called Pareraututu. In his formative 1997 article, Dr Paul Tapsell describes how the cloak was woven in about 1800 by a weaver named Pareraututu, by whose name the garment is now known.35 As mentioned earlier, Pareraututu was woven from the pelts of multiple kurī, who held significance for the purpose of its construction. These kurī belonged to rangatira of the Rangatihi tribe, who were killed in a battle by members of the Tūhoe tribe. Both the men of Rangatihi and Tūhoe were related to Pareraututu, which caused her immense pain. She gathered the dogs belonging to these slain rangatira, and sewed their skins onto a woven kaupapa (base) to create a kahu kurī.36 As discussed earlier, the process of sewing strips of skin onto the woven kaupapa was usually undertaken by men. This makes the case of Pareraututu exceptional, under exceptionally tragic circumstances.

  • 37 Setting aside the complexity of a Christian comparison, on a basic level this may compared to trans (...)
  • 38 P. Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu’, p. 344.

17The weaver Pareraututu, whom the kākahu is named after, sat draped in this garment on the marae (house) of another rangatira for three days refusing food, as a political call for avengement of her kin. Moved, the rangatira acquiesced by lifting the kākahu from Pareraututu’s shoulders and placed it on his own. In this story, recounted and theorised by Te Arawa scholar Dr. Paul Tapsell, Pareraututu elicited the essential qualities (mauri or life force, wairua or spirit, mana or prestige) of the slain rangatira from their kurī. These qualities were woven into the kahu kurī in the strips of pelt and, for Pareraututu and the rangatira she appealed to, evoked the deaths of the chiefs. Following this moment, the kākahu disappeared from sight for more than a hundred years until the garment was recognised by one of her descendants, Hari Semmens. Hari recognised the kākahu as his kuia (older female relative or grandmother) personified. He referred to the kākahu as she and her, and understood the substance of the kākahu as the being of his grandmother.37 This is how scholars and museum staff in New Zealand have continued to refer to her. This re-emergence from obscurity slowly set in motion a new story of reconnection and ultimately repatriation. In this second phase of her life, the kahu kurī came to evoke the weaver herself to her uri (descendants). Upon her eventual return to the marae in Rotorua, Hari gave her a hongi, a greeting involving inhalation of the same breath. What can be observed here is the kākahu coming to stand for a person of mana, originating in its materiality: “The cloak lying [here] not only represents the warriors that were killed near Lake Rerewhakaaitu but also brings to us memories of Pareraututu who was buried along with many of her Ngati Rangitihi ancestors upon Wahanga”.38

5. Decline of kurī and kahu kurī

  • 39 Nikki MacDonald, ‘Hair of dog to solve mystery of long-lost kuri’. Waikato Times, (July 20, 2015), (...)
  • 40 W. Colenso, Notes on the ancient Dog of the New Zealanders, p. 17.

18As the kurī population declined, kahu kurī stopped being woven. This decline is the subject of ongoing research, but is thought to be a combination of interbreeding with imported breeds of dog and the killing of kurī by Pākehā farmers.39 Archaeological evidence also suggests that younger dogs were killed more than older dogs in earlier sites, and older dogs more often in later sites, suggesting a decreasingly robust population. According to Colenso, kurī were either extinct or very rare by the late 1820s. In 1877 he observed, “Many a dog-skin mat has been made within the last fifty years of the skins of dogs of the small mongrel breed, before European clothing became common among the natives”.40

19Colenso is here drawing a distinction between what he describes as the “ancient” dog, or “pure-bred” kurī, and a kind of kurī-European breed hybrid which presumably existed for a time if the decline of the kurī was through interbreeding. Colenso claimed to have often seen the process of manufacture, which would suggest that the production of kahu kurī did not cease after the 1820s. In 1835 Colenso was told a story by an acquaintance of the killing of a kurī for ceremonial purposes around five years previously, in Wairoa, Northland. Colenso described this, in 1877, as being the last account he had heard of a pure bred “ancient dog”.

  • 41 W. Colenso, Notes on the ancient Dog of the New Zealanders, p. 17.

A great lady of that place had her chin, etc., tattooed after the old custom, and a dog was accordingly sought as tapu (sacred) food for the tohunga, or operator. There was but this one left in that neighbourhood, and it was almost taken by force from its owner (a petty chief) who cried and mourned greatly over his dog. My informant also partook of its flesh, being an assistant in the ceremonies.41

20This underscores again the spiritual and tapu value of kurī for ceremonies such as this. It is also possible to extrapolate that, at a time when kurī had become rare, there was a maintained preference for them over more plentiful European breeds. This raises an interesting question about the decline of kahu kurī and the proliferation of European breeds. Were European dogs, which were plentiful and could be purchased like any other animal, ever an acceptable substitute for kahu kurī or other tapu purposes? Colenso’s comment suggests that kurī-European breed hybrids could be acceptable for kākahu when available. There is, however, a lack of evidence suggesting that the substitution of wholly European breeds was embraced for kahu kurī. It is unlikely there was a single cause for this.

  • 42 Vincent, O’Malley, The New Zealand Wars. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2019, p. 236-243.
  • 43 Claudia Orange, ‘Treaty of Waitangi — Dishonouring the treaty — 1860 to 1880’, Te Ara Encyclopedia (...)
  • 44 Ian Pool and Natalie Jackson, ‘Population change - Māori population change’, Te Ara Encyclopedia of (...)
  • 45 Roger Neich, Painted Histories. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994, p. 92-93.

21The later half of the nineteenth century was a time of great transition and upheaval, which affected and included Māori weaving and apparel. This was the period of both the New Zealand Wars and the Native Land Courts, which between 1860 and 1890 saw the loss through confiscation or the courts of 12 million acres of land for North Island Māori.42 The Crown and the New Zealand Company (a commercial colonisation enterprise) had acquired 99% of the South Island by 1865.43 Due to war casualties, illness and impoverishment, the population of Māori declined to 42,000 by 1896 — this is the lowest estimate for the population in recent history, and is less than half of what the population is thought to have been a hundred years earlier.44 These catastrophic impacts of colonisation did not lead, as expected by some European settlers, to Māori dying out. The latter half of the nineteenth century was a time of rapid adaptation for Māori in different fields, including art. The most well-known genre of this is wharenui (large decorated meeting houses) used for tribal and political consolidation from the 1860s.45 At the same time, kahu huruhuru (feather cloaks) were becoming more common as fine, prestigious garments, having been uncommon in the late eighteenth century. Kahu huruhuru probably partly served to replace the kahu kurī for this formal function in the later nineteenth century. Furthermore, European clothing was being adopted and adapted more widely by this time and the role of kākahu became increasingly ceremonial and symbolic, and less mundane. These changes allow an understanding of why the kahu kurī may have declined anyway, but it is possible that the earlier disappearance of the kurī was more of a determining factor.

  • 46 Tahu Kukutai, ‘Māori Demography in Aotearoa New Zealand: Fifty Years On’, New Zealand Population 37 (...)
  • 47 T. Kukutai, ‘Māori Demography in Aotearoa New Zealand: Fifty Years On’, p. 58.

22As discussed earlier, the whakapapa of kurī was an important part of their value to their humans. As important associates with rangatira and people of mana, their genealogies were often known and recited in relation to their owners, and both sets of human and kurī ancestors. As with the whakapapa of people, these lines could be traced back to the Pacific, and many stories of ancestral dogs are recounted to this day. With whakapapa such a key determinant in mana and tapu, it is likely then that imported breeds of dog were not seen as an appropriate replacement for kahu kurī. Nineteenth and twentieth-century assimilationist notions of blood quantum have been broadly rejected in te ao Māori (the Māori world) and in public policy since the 1960s.46 Whakapapa, one’s ability to trace their ancestry back to at least one Māori ancestor or iwi (tribe), is the principal determinant of being Māori. This is argued to be more consistent with customary kinship conceptions based on whakapapa.47

  • 48 Rawiri Taonui, ‘Te Ngahere — Forest Lore’, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, last modified Septem (...)

23We can therefore see why hybrid kurī / imported breed dogs may not have been considered inappropriate for kahu kurī, but purely imported breeds were. Imported breeds did not have whakapapa, but hybrids still did. While we understand now that kurī probably disappeared through interbreeding, there would have come a time when dogs with kurī whakapapa became indistinguishable from dogs without. This may contribute to explaining why such tapu and prestigious garments declined in parallel with kurī, rather than were adapted to the resources of imported breeds of dog. Here it becomes important to consider kahu huruhuru, feather cloaks. While some species became extinct and others rare, native birds fared colonisation better than kurī and survive today. Since the nineteenth century, however, many weavers turned to imported birds — chicken, guinea fowl, pheasant and others. Considering the seeming unwillingness of weavers to use European dog fur, this seems incongruous. When domesticated and imported birds, like European dogs, were plentiful and accessible, why did weavers embrace the birds but not the dogs? Whakapapa, again, offers one explanation. While native birds have the mana and tapu inherent as children of Tāne, their whakapapa is not tied to humans in the same way.48 Further, and possibly due to this, solely feather cloaks were not seen as equal in prestige or tapu to dog skin cloaks earlier. This seems to denote that in the nineteenth century it was materials derived from kurī, rather than birds, which conferred, reflected and affirmed rangatiratanga.

  • 49 Awhina Tamarapa, ‘Kahu waero (dog hair tassel cloak)’, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, inv (...)
  • 50 ‘Kahu koati style of cloak’, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, https://collections.tepapa.go (...)

24There are a few creative exceptions to the mid 1900s cessation of kurī fur cloaks. In Te Papa Museum of New Zealand is a kahu waero woven by Te Wharetoa Tiniraupeka, of the iwi Ngāti Tunohopu, Ngāti Whakaue and Te Arawa. This kahu waero was woven around 1890-1900, and uses white hair from the underside of dogs’ tails. This is at least 60 years after Colenso claimed pure-bred kurī to have disappeared. While we cannot know whether a particular line of dogs with kurī whakapapa was maintained or tracked, it seems likely that this kākahu used the fur of European breeds of dogs despite a lack of whakapapa. Te Wharetoroa was born in 1863 and wove this kākahu in memory of her mother, creating a reference to customary weaving and history.49 In Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira is another kahu waero with a less well-known provenance, from the collection of Mick Pendergrast. (Fig. 6) This kākahu has a base of cotton, which was a common adaptation into the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While likely, it has not been determined that the hair on this kākahu is from a dog, there is precedent for angora goat hair being used on inventive transitional period kākahu, with the angora goat being introduced to New Zealand in 1860.50 However, the coarseness of this hair does not suggest angora. This kākahu could have been woven at any point from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s, when Pendergrast began collecting. These two outliers represent innovation with reference to customary practices which can be seen in the world of Māori weaving.

Fig. 6: Likely twentieth-century kahu waero with cotton base

Fig. 6: Likely twentieth-century kahu waero with cotton base

Paenga Hira Auckland Museum. inv. 2015.100.206

© Auckland Museum

6. Conclusion

25Kurī were important participants in Māori society, their understood qualities of mana and tapu lending them great import to their people. These qualities of mana and tapu did not diminish in death, so their remains retained their significance. This is a crucial lens for understanding the role of kāhu kurī as treasured, prestigious and turbulent garments. Early notions of animism, often applied to Indigenous cultures, can have an anthropocentric basis assuming humans perceive human qualities in non-human things. However, in te ao Māori, all beings and things can have qualities of mana, tapu and mauri. Mana, a spiritual prestige, is inherited and also accrued in life. Tapu, a state of sacredness or restriction requiring care, is generated from mana. Whakapapa, one’s genealogy and ancestors, is an important informant of mana and tapu. Kurī, as animals close to humans, are connected with these qualities in intricate ways. Kahu kurī are perhaps the most intricate of these. According to the animist reading of Māori ontology, kurī skins maintain the tapu and mana of the dogs themselves. However, the dogs themselves accrue these qualities in both their long whakapapa and lived biographies through associations with people of great mana. This underlines the important association between kurī and Rangatira — kurī were chiefly dogs, and their tapu restricted their meat and skins to prestigious uses and people. Another complex layer of tapu is acquired during the fabrication of the kahu kurī, which is a tapu process in itself requiring the intervention of both genders each dealing with different materials. Finally, tapu is embedded through the wearing by and association with prestigious people. The kākahu of Pareraututu encapsulates these papa (layers, foundations) of tapu. These began with the ancestry of the kurī, their chiefly owners and their whakapapa, the tapu of the bloodshed in battle, that of Pareraututu as an accomplished weaver, and that of the chief who took the kākahu from her. By the time the kākahu reemerged, she had become known by the name of Pareraututu and was recognised as a being with the qualities of her weaver, as well as many lines of whakapapa.

26Kākahu like Pareraututu became increasingly rare in the nineteenth century and it is through this process that we may glean further understanding of the Māori value for kurī. Assuming, as research suggests, that interbreeding with European dogs was a major factor in the disappearance of the kurī, there was a period of time when kurī-European dog hybrids were available to weavers. Evidence like Colenso’s writing suggests that kahu kurī were still being woven during this transitional period and with these hybrid dogs. They did not continue, however, to be woven using solely European dogs. As other kākahu continued to be woven with imported bird feathers (despite native birds remaining), there is likely to be a disjunct in the human relationship with these animals. It is argued here that the whakapapa of kurī, a genealogy traceable to the Pacific, is a determinant of the tapu crucial for these garments. Woven for and worn by chiefs, kahu kurī needed to reflect and amplify their mana and tapu. Materials derived from kurī, an animal with an ancestral pedigree that matched their owners’, were appropriate for these garments. In the conceptualising of whakapapa, even the alloyed presence of this lineage made hybrid kurī-European breeds appropriate. However, once kurī lineage became invisible in the canine population, the whakapapa could no longer be assured. The materiality of dog skins could no longer convey the mana and tapu necessary in such garments, especially in a context of increasing upheaval and change. The remaining kahu kurī in museum collections all over the world and in Aotearoa affirm a commitment to whakapapa in Māori art production, and to upholding their mana and tapu.

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Notes

1 Canis pacificus is the scientific name that was given by naturalist Charles Hamilton Smith. It covers a genetic variety of dogs which travelled with humans around the Pacific.

2 Atholl Anderson, Judith Binney and Aroha Harris, Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2014, p. 76-77.

3 Such as candlewick or mop string instead of flax fibre for the body of cloaks.

4 Basil Keane, "What is the Kurī?” Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Last modified November 24, 2008. https://teara.govt.nz/en/kuri-polynesian-dogs/page-1 [last accessed on 1/06/2020].

5 John White, Ancient History of the Maori. Wellington: Government Printer, 1887, p. 122.

6 Hoani Te Whatahoro, The Lore of the Whare-wānanga: Or Teachings of the Maori College on Religion, Cosmogony, and History, trans. S. Percy Smith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913, p. 59-60.

7 Tony Sole, Ngāti Ruanui. A History. Wellington: Huia Publishers, 2015, p. 19.

8 Paul Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu: An investigation of Taonga from a tribal perspective’. Journal of the Polynesian Society 106, no. 4 (1997), p. 327.

9 P. Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu’, p. 329.

10 See in particular Philippe Descola, Beyond Nature and Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

11 Graham Harvey, Animism: Respecting the Living World. Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2005, p. 64.

12 Christopher Braddock (ed.), Animism in Art and Performance. New York: Springer, 2017.

13 Cassandra Barnett, ‘Te Tuna-Whiri: The Knot of Eels’, in Animism in Art and Performance, edited by Christopher Braddock, New York: Springer, 2017.

14 C. Barnett, ‘Te Tuna-Whiri’, p. 28-30.

15 George Forster, A Voyage Round the World: In His Britannic Majesty's Sloop, Resolution, Commanded by Capt. James Cook. London: B. White, 1777, p. 219 ; Julien Marie Crozet, Crozet's Voyage to Tasmania, New Zealand, the Ladrone Islands, and the Philippines in the years 1771-1772, trans. Ling Roth. London: Truslove and Shirley, 1891, p. 76.

16 Te Papa, inv. 1153635.

17 ‘Review’. New Zealand Times 33, no. 5364 (June 1878), p. 2.

18 ‘Ohinemuri Goldfield’. Thames Advertiser 7, no. 3477 (November 1879), p. 3.

19 ‘Why Did the Maori Dog Kuri Die Out? Scientists Looks for Clues in Old Hair and Bones’. Stuff, last modified July 17, 2015, https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/69440723/why-did-the-maori-dog-kuri-die-out-scientists-looks-for-clues-in-old-hair-and-bones [last accessed on 08/06/2020].

20 G. Forster, A Voyage Round the World, p. 219 and James Cook, The Voyages of Captain James Cook. London: William Smith, 1846, vol. 2, p. 55.

21 This exchange was often with precious materials like tapa cloth from the Pacific, metal and cloth. Furthermore, exchange of precious goods was for Māori an important part of reciprocity and relationship building, as the Endeavour crew had previously experienced in other Pacific islands. G. Forster, A Voyage Round the World, p. 219.

22 C.G., (Hokonui), ‘Notes and Queries’, Otago Witness, (December 18, 1890), p. 20.

23 Geoffrey Clark, ‘The Kuri in prehistory : a skeletal analysis of the extinct Māori dog’, unpublished MA thesis, University of Otago, 1995.

24 Deidre Brown, Introducing Maori Art. Auckland: Raupo, 2005, p. 26.

25 Famous examples of these are in the British Museum in London (inv. Oc,NZ.125), the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge (inv. D 1924.80) and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (inv. 1886.21.19).

26 D. Brown, Introducing Maori Art, p. 26.

27 Elsdon Best, ‘The Art of the Whare Pora: Notes on the Clothing of the Ancient Maori’, in Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868-1961, Wellington: Royal Society of New Zealand, 1898, p. 644.

28 E. Best, ‘The Art of the Whare Pora’, p. 644.

29 William Colenso, Notes on the Ancient Dog of the New Zealanders. Christchurch: Kiwi Publishers, 1877, p. 16.

30 Basil Keane, ‘Decorative Kurī Hair’, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, last modified November 24, 2008, https://teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/16234/decorative-kuri-hair [last accessed on 16/04/2020].

31 Herbert W. Williams, A Dictionary of the Maori Language. Wellington: Government Printer, 1957, p. 24.

32 There is mention among weavers of the removal of patches of skin and fur from a living dog and allowing it to grow back, as a sustainable source of skin and fur.

33 Peter Coutts and Mark Jurisich, ‘Canine Passengers in Maori Canoes’. World Archaeology 5, no. 1 (1973), p. 82.

34 W. Colenso, Notes on the ancient Dog of the New Zealanders, p. 16.

35 P. Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu’.

36 P. Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu’, p. 340.

37 Setting aside the complexity of a Christian comparison, on a basic level this may compared to transubstatiation; where the substance of a material changes to represent a being while the external appearance remains the same.

38 P. Tapsell, ‘The flight of Pareraututu’, p. 344.

39 Nikki MacDonald, ‘Hair of dog to solve mystery of long-lost kuri’. Waikato Times, (July 20, 2015), p. 5.

40 W. Colenso, Notes on the ancient Dog of the New Zealanders, p. 17.

41 W. Colenso, Notes on the ancient Dog of the New Zealanders, p. 17.

42 Vincent, O’Malley, The New Zealand Wars. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2019, p. 236-243.

43 Claudia Orange, ‘Treaty of Waitangi — Dishonouring the treaty — 1860 to 1880’, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, last modified June 20, 2012.

http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/interactive/36363/maori-land-loss-south-island [last accessed on 01/05/2020].

44 Ian Pool and Natalie Jackson, ‘Population change - Māori population change’, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, last modified August 23, 2018, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/population-change/page-6 [last accessed on 10/05/2020].

45 Roger Neich, Painted Histories. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1994, p. 92-93.

46 Tahu Kukutai, ‘Māori Demography in Aotearoa New Zealand: Fifty Years On’, New Zealand Population 37 (2011), p. 45-53.

47 T. Kukutai, ‘Māori Demography in Aotearoa New Zealand: Fifty Years On’, p. 58.

48 Rawiri Taonui, ‘Te Ngahere — Forest Lore’, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand, last modified September 24, 2007, https://teara.govt.nz/en/te-ngahere-forest-lore/print [last accessed on 28/11/2021].

49 Awhina Tamarapa, ‘Kahu waero (dog hair tassel cloak)’, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, inv. ME015529, https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/50047 [last accessed on 13/09/2020].

50 ‘Kahu koati style of cloak’, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/topic/3643 [last accessed on 16/07/2020].

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Mounted kurī in the Otago Museum collection
Légende Otago Museum, inv. VT2162
Crédits Wikimedia Commons. Kane Fleury / © Otago Museum
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apparences/docannexe/image/3938/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 367k
Titre Fig. 2: Engraving by Thomas Chambers of 1769 sketch by Sydney Parkinson showing checkered kahu kurī, 1784
Crédits Alexander Turnbull Library, inv. PUBL-0037-15
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apparences/docannexe/image/3938/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Fig. 3: Detail of kahu kurī with missing fur revealing the precision of the skin strips
Légende Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge, UK) on loan to the Tairāwhiti Museum in Gisborne (New Zealand), inv. D 1924.80
Crédits © Justine Treadwell, 2020
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apparences/docannexe/image/3938/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 813k
Titre Fig. 4: Two kahu kurī, one awarua (left) and one tōpuni (right). The Maori, by Elsdon Best, vol. 2, pp. 509
Crédits New Zealand Electronic Text Collection
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apparences/docannexe/image/3938/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 29k
Titre Fig. 5: Detail of kahu kurī showing fur strips sewn around the lower edge
Légende Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge, UK), inv. D 1924.85.16
Crédits © Justine Treadwell, 2020
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apparences/docannexe/image/3938/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 654k
Titre Fig. 6: Likely twentieth-century kahu waero with cotton base
Légende Paenga Hira Auckland Museum. inv. 2015.100.206
Crédits © Auckland Museum
URL http://journals.openedition.org/apparences/docannexe/image/3938/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 693k
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Justine Treadwell, « Kahu kurī o awe: Fur cloaks of awe »Apparence(s) [En ligne], 11 | 2022, mis en ligne le 11 février 2022, consulté le 06 juillet 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/apparences/3938 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/apparences.3938

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Auteur

Justine Treadwell

Justine Treadwell is a Doctoral candidate in Museums and Cultural Heritage at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her doctoral research investigates 18th-century kākahu Māori (Māori cloaks) held in museum collections in Britain, Ireland and Europe.

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