Raglan resident Heeni Kerekere is on a mission to revive a lost artform.

To do that she needs to have four whariki or woven floormats finished at four different marae by May next year – and with a bit of luck she’ll see the first project here at Poihakena Marae completed and blessed this week.

The age-old Maori art of making mats by not only weaving but first hand-processing locally gathered flax is a labour of love, she admits.
“I don’t want to see this (artform) die,” Heeni told the Chronicle on Sunday as she deftly wove strand after strand of fibre along with friend and fellow resident Pania Meredith who’s more familiar with doing volunteer work at Raglan Community House than traditional Maori mat-making.

Pania was getting her confidence back after first tackling the skill about 10 years ago — under a different tutor at the local marae — and reckons Heeni has really had to teach her from the beginning.

Heeni’s protégés are mostly those with no experience of mat-making, although some are skilled weavers who come to her workshops to learn something new. They can be both women and men, young and old.
While just the two women were working at the marae on the large, near-complete whariki when the Chronicle called, there’d been four weavers the day before and at times since the project began in July there’s been up to six, says Heeni. The response has been “excellent”.

Workshop days — mostly at weekends — have been sporadic, she adds, depending on the marae’s availability but they’re all open to the public. “Anyone is welcome to learn.”
With funding from Creative New Zealand, Heeni’s intention is to teach marae whanau in particular to weave their own mats, which in recent years have been replaced by carpet and seagrass matting. Whariki made on each marae — Poihakena, Waingaro, Whatawhata and Motakotako near Kawhia — will stay on site.

At Poihakena Marae, the now all but complete takapau wharanui or woven mat signifying rebirth of a tradition will be used for special ceremonial occasions such as the tangi.
Heeni explains how the carefully selected poutama pattern in two colours is not only beautiful and achieveable for 99 percent of beginner weavers but also represents knowledge and “advancing to another world”.

Heeni, now in her mid-50s, learnt the art of weaving in the early 1980s and followed up with a five-year arts diploma at Gisborne’s Tairawhiti Polytechnic.
As well as being an artist in her own right, she has tutored in educational institutions and on marae around the country, including the past three years at Poihakena Marae where she tutored in the diploma of Maori visual arts.

Edith Symes