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A weaver’s journey...

Monday January 16, 2017 Written by Published in Weekend
Tuaine Bailey and her husband John pictured at the Apii Avarua Centennial reunion night at the Te Atukura grounds in Avarua in October last year. 17011359 Tuaine Bailey and her husband John pictured at the Apii Avarua Centennial reunion night at the Te Atukura grounds in Avarua in October last year. 17011359

This feature was written by Tuaine Bailey (nee Strickland). It describes her journey as a highly skilled and talented weaver, a journey which began on Pukapuka where her father, the well-known educator Mana Strickland was head teacher.

When Tuaine later married John Bailey in 1969, she moved to New Zealand and became a teacher, later resuming her interest in Pacific and New Zealand Maori traditional weaving and many other aspects of arts and crafts.


I WAS born on the island of Mauke in the Southern Cook Islands in 1942. My parents were Mana Strickland, a career educator and my mother Mauariki, a respected weaver and skilled in the design and production of handwork, such as weaving, making tivaivai, embroidered pillow cases, as well as dress making.

In 1946 we moved to Pukapuka where my Papa was appointed to the position of headteacher. It was there from a young age I remember watching the Mamas collecting and preparing pandanus and coconut rito leaves for their weaving.

I recall picking up the remnants of pandanus and attempting to produce my own childhood creations. The mamas often worked together and enjoyed each other’s company as they spent many hours to produce large mats.

The coconut palms were also woven to provide a rain proof, thatched roof for many of the traditional type homes. Some of the finer coconut fronds produced rito, produced by stripping the coconut leaf, then boiling to produce a delicate, white fibre used in finely woven hats and baskets. I was fascinated by the way the Mamas worked cooperatively with the beautiful natural fibres they used and what they were able to produce.

I also observed and helped my Papa making sinnet for lashing the outriggers to his canoe. He taught me how to miro (twine) the short fibres of the coconut by rolling with the hands on the thigh to make a longer piece of sennit

In 1949 we returned to Rarotonga, where Papa took up a teaching position. Our first home was made from traditional materials, so I was able to learn quickly the art of plaiting coconut fronds for the roof. In addition, we used plaited coconut palms for screening the cooking house.

At school and at home I loved the opportunities to continue learning more about handwork using environmental resources. I recall making hula skirts from kiriau using the bark of the au tree, as well as making kete (baskets) and kikau brooms.

The Cook Islands were a haven for handcrafts and for those young girls interested and with sufficient patience there were always Mamas prepared to teach. I was fortunate to have my own Mama on hand as well, always happy to share her talents. I loved the challenge and creative opportunities provided by tivaivai making and the colourful, floral embroidery on pillow slips and table cloths. At Avarua Maori School, I was also fortunate to have teachers who encouraged us to create using a variety of fibres and textiles.

After spending my early years, involved in education both as a learner and later as a teacher and continuing to refine my handwork skills both at home and in community groups, life changed. In 1969, I left behind my homeland with my husband, John, for a new life in New Zealand.

It was while at Rawene in the early 1970s that I met an old kuia who was interested in some of my Cook Islands weaving and in return was happy to share with me her flax weaving talents. I was intrigued with the likeness of flax weaving to pandanus weaving and certainly learned a lot from her.While initially I continued my handwork, it was of a different nature. At that time, flax weaving was not to the forefront. Each term I would find an opportunity to try out many different classes. It was a chance to learn new skills such as making cane products, macramé, ceramics, leadlight, cake decorating, pottery, marbling, doll making, mosaics, and papier-mache.

I was kept busy studying throughout 1978 as I attended Auckland College of Education to meet New Zealand teaching requirements.

Once my course at Auckland Teachers College was completed, I continued to attend night classes as well as teaching full-time. I was surprised that there was very little focus on Maori or Pacific arts in the New Zealand school curriculum at the time.

Following the 1987 world-wide economic crisis, with high levels of unemployment in New Zealand, a new focus occurred amongst the Maori people and there was a gradual, but steady revival, of the arts of the Maori with a focus on weaving in its many forms. Across the country, direction from strong Maori leaders ensured the momentum was enduring. Many Maori weaving reference books were produced capturing the history of weaving, as well as providing many photographic records of the work of leading weavers, all working away quietly in mainly rural communities.

It wasn’t until early 2000 that I found opportunities for flax weaving again when I found classes  being run in Hamilton. It was that opportunity which allowed me to use new fibres and the realisation that many of the processes were similar to the ones I had learned when growing up in the Cook Islands.

I was happy to sit for hours when not teaching young children, and put into practice the knowledge shared by a respected Tainui weaver. Every spare moment of the day was used to explore various flax weaving techniques including kete and mat making.

In 2007 after moving to Pukekohe, I enrolled in raranga (weaving) classes with Te Wanaanga o Aotearoa. In my fourth year of weaving I was awarded my Bachelor of Visual Arts (Maori).

The four-year course was enlightening and allowed me to develop a range of skills using flax. These included kete-making, mat-making, creating tukutuku panels and the fine art of extracting and using muka for korowai making.

I also used contemporary materials for making korowai as well as being in a position to carry out a detailed study of the production of rito from coconut palms in the Cook Islands and then create handcrafts using rito.

Opportunities were also provided to gain a better understanding of the different species of flax and how some were better than others for particular weaving creations. Changing the composition of flax through boiling and dyeing added another dimension to my knowledge and my work.

Since completing my degree, I have continued to weave and have produced articles for exhibitions as well as for gifts. My real passion is weaving muka and while the process is time consuming, the end product reflects the beauty of the white, inner fibre of flax, similar in many ways to the beautiful, white, rito fibres of the Cook Islands.

I have also conducted weaving classes at Mataatua Marae, the Franklin Arts Centre, with Counties Manukau Kindergarten Association teachers, and at the Papakura Arts Centre. I have supported Mataatua Marae with school visits to the marae as well as visiting kindergartens, primary, intermediate and secondary schools to involve students in different aspects of weaving and thus show how weaving can be integrated into the New Zealand school curriculum.

In recent times, I have made a number of wahakura (baby sleeping baskets) both at weaving hui and at home.

I was fascinated to read of the work of Dr Tipene-Leach around safe sleep for babies with the use of wahakura to stop mamas bed sharing with their new born babies.

Wahakura, along with other initiatives as part of an overall national strategy, have been effective in reducing sudden infant deaths and in recent years, there has been a 30 per cent reduction in such deaths.

 In 2015 I donated 10 wahakura to the Pukekohe Birthing Unit in recognition of the work of the midwives and also the fact that our latest grandchild was born there.

When I look back, I realise how valuable the early experiences of weaving and other craft work in the Cook Islands set in motion a journey which has been enriching, enjoyable and rewarding.

It has allowed me to share my wide range of skills with so many others across all age groups and cultures.

To my Mama and Papa, the Mamas of the villages, my teachers, my tutors and respected kuia, thank-you all for sharing your knowledge with me.


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