Māori weavers thread new life into last ancient waka sail

By Te Ao Māori News

A group of seven traditional weavers will recreate a miniature version of Te Rā, the last known Maori sail to ever exist.

A week-long wānanga is currently being held at Arahura marae just north of Hokitika with master weavers, to gauge an understanding of the traditional sail and its different weaving patterns and texture detail. 

The intricate detailing of Te Rā. 

Master weaver Te Atiwei Ririnui has been invited to be part of the practical process.

“We want to know how it started and why the feathers were placed at the top, all those little details,” he says.

But before any practical work begins, the weavers will partake in lengthy discussions and study the intricacies of the sail through research already completed by Te Rā project researchers including Māori textile scholar Dr Catherine Smith, Donna Campbell and Ranui Ngarimu.  

Last year The Marsden Fund dedicated $845,000 over three years to help research the construction of the ancient sail by examining everything about the sail, using knowledge of Maori weaving techniques, DNA analysis and microscopy to provide insights into the sail.

Feathers threaded through Te Rā.

Te Rā is currently housed at the Royal Academy of Arts as part of the Oceania display, but will be included in an exhibition which marks 250 years since Captain Cook’s first voyage to the Pacific.

Prince Charles admiring Te Atiwei Ririnui's work.

Ririnui says this wānanga is now at the practical stage of possibly recreating it, “I’m so honoured to be invited to be a part of this group. We’ve already prepared harakeke for our miniature replica, it’s exciting and it’s always been a dream of mine to research and be a part of something so traditional.”


$845k Marsden funding awarded to research last known Māori sail.