Airini Donnelly’s cloak welcomed back

Kia ora everyone.

Last Saturday saw the return of a kākahu (cloak) to Ngāti Kahungunu, MTG Hawke’s Bay, which once belonged to Airini Donnelly: a wahine Rangatira born Airini Karauria at Puketapu about 1854-1855, her father being the Ngāti Kahungunu chief Karauria and her grandfather Tiakitai, the chief of Waimārama.

Her husband, Irishman George Prior Donnelly from County Tipperary, emigrated to Aotearoa in 1862. At Airini’s tangihanga in 1909 at Ōtatara, George gave this particular kākahu to Inspector Dwyer for ensuring the funeral ran smoothly with all the various parties involved.

Inspector Dwyer hung it in the Dwyer family home on Ōmāhu Rd in Remuera for many years, before it was offered to Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.

With the blessings from the great-grandchildren of Inspector Dwyer, Tooki, Anne and Jane, and with agreement from Auckland Museum, this cloak was welcomed back to Ngāti Kahungunu and into MTG.

This was supported by local Ngāti Kahungunu who whakapapa to Waimārama, Ōmāhu, Waiohiki, and to Airini. This kākahu has wool incorporated into the making of it, illustrating how Māori were quick to adapt to new materials arriving from England.

The importance of Airini’s kākahu to Ngāti Kahungunu and to Hawke’s Bay is very significant to us all, a primary source of history that originates from the past.

It represents a torrid time in our history: English land grab wars, tribal alliances on both sides of the fence, the outgoing of the last cannibal generation and the imposition of Westminster law and Christianity – a collision of cultures and everything in between lost in translation.

This was a tumultuous period for all indigenous peoples of the world, as too for the hapū of Airini Donnelly. Airini did, and still does, have her detractors amongst her own iwi. The study of past events has left many with mixed feelings of Arini’s behaviour towards them due to her contentious land dealings.

This kākahu reflects a time of Māori grappling with the onset of colonisation. The Taonga Māori in MTG collections, numbering in excess of 6000, reference this volatile period in our history.

The McLean and Ebbett Collections held by MTG were mostly gathered during the land grab wars, and the Black Collection was gathered much later into MTG after these taonga were taken from burial caves on the East Coast. To know this kākahu of Airini Donnelly’s is to know the history of our country, Nova Zeelandia, subsequently anglicised to ‘New Zealand’ by James Cook.

Māori adapted our art form of weaving to suit the colder climate of Aotearoa out of the necessity for warmer garments to survive. Out in the Pacific triangle the aute bark (paper mulberry) was used to make cloth, but our climate makes it difficult for this plant to grow here.

The discovery of harakeke (NZ flax) was vital for Māori: we learnt how to extract the muka (inner fibre) from the leaves to twine it together, giving the foundation for kākahu. We also discovered other plants to use, along with animal skins and feathers.

With the influx of Pākehā, Māori were mostly wearing European clothing by the end of the 1800s, and with this, the practice of raranga (weaving) was in decline.

However in recent years the revival of this age-old art has seen contemporary weavers making full use of customary and contemporary materials with woven kākahu continuing to be highly valued.

Airini Donnelly cloak gifted to MTG being welcomed into the building.

Airini Donnelly cloak gifted to MTG being welcomed into the building.

Te Hira Henderson – curator of Taonga Maori, MTG
Published in the Hawke’s Bay Today, 16 March 2019

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