Don’t cut harakeke when it’s raining – What is tikanga?

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Guest Post by Aroha Puketapu

This is an excerpt from our upcoming eBook and collaboration by Aroha Puketapu and Graeme (Kereama) Smith. Watch this space for more…!

When I was younger, Tapu was explained to me as ‘being sacred’. Noa, on the other hand, was explained to me as ‘being common or normal’.

When linking concepts of tapu and noa we can approach both concepts in many ways.

Common approaches in the past have been a tool for social control as Māoridom essentially holds an oral tradition.

I refer to the term social control in the way of fear and or love.

The fear was often to keep people in a certain mindset or doctrine for reasons of protection while requiring an expected behaviour.

However to exist in a largely egalitarian society based on principles of shared resources you would need to act out of a spirit of love and manaakitanga.

Therefore the ‘fear’ assertion can be challenged.

By testing these principles in your own life you may just find the meaning of Tapu and Noa to be more for ‘practical’ reasons of protection rather than the notion of protection inducing a state of fear.

It’s this practical knowledge that flows from an understanding of tapu and noa that I want to explore.

Here’s my example:

As a weaver, I had been told that there is certain tikanga that existed around ‘Te Whare Pora’ or the House of Weaving.

Some of these restrictions were:

  • Don’t cut harakeke (flax) when it rains.
  • Don’t cut harakeke in the dark.
  • Don’t cut harakeke when you (a wahine) have your mate wahine (menstrual cycle).

I decided to put this tikanga to the test.

Before I discuss the outcome of this test you need to know the position I come from.

I am Māori, I am a woman and I belong to a Hahi o Ihu Karaiti – in other words, I am a Christian.

Years ago, upon becoming a Christian I was told by a well-meaning but non-Māori elder that I must leave my culture at the door when I enter the church.

This puzzled me as I was born and raised Māori living within my iwi and lived directly across my from my marae of which my whanau were heavily involved (ahi kaa roa) in as a part of our daily life.

My understanding of Io Matua was that we (Māori) are created beings and all things created need a creator.

For me, as a Māori, that the creator had a name – Io Matua.

That name essentially means Supreme Being.  This puts man in his place with regard to the relationship and our abilities in comparison to and with the creator.

Armed with this knowledge I went to karakia and or prayer and asked Io Matua that if my culture is so wrong why then I have I been so blessed to be raised Māori within my iwi experiencing love and a richness of identity and peace?

The answer that came back was one of enquiry:

“What exactly is it you are saying is wrong?”

After explaining the call to leave my culture at the door the response surprised me.

“Test me.”

So I did. And here’s what happened.

The first test: I decided to cut harakeke in the rain.

I chose a particularly dark wet day.  I went to my usual pa harakeke and proceeded to cut.

The harakeke was tough because it was full of water. The blade of my knife (usually reliable) nearly bent and broke under the pressure of my push and the saturated fibre.

At one point, my knife slipped and I nearly cut myself.

Here’s what I learned: Cutting harakeke in the rain is cold, wet, tough going, takes twice as long as a usual cut in dry weather and probably a health and safety hazard.

The second test: I then decided to cut harakeke in the dark. I went out late around night after the sun had set about 10 pm.

I decided not to take a torch because I figured if there was a lesson in there for me to learn I wanted it to be authentic.

I found my way to my pa harakeke easily as it was in my backyard and not too far away. Then I needed to select my leaves.

I felt for the rito and awhi rito (parents and child in the middle) and worked my way back to the leaves the furthest away from the centre using the silhouette of available light.

I knew to cut as low to the ground as possible. Once I had done all that I cut the leaves.

Here’s what I learned from my second test: Cutting flax in the dark is guesswork and also possibly dangerous.

In the dark, I was unable to see, select appropriate blades of harakeke or carry out any quality control.

Once again, I put myself in danger. I could have cut myself.

Luckily, I was in my own backyard, but depending on where your pa harakeke is located, getting there could end you up in tricky situations such as stuck in mud or with a sprained ankle if its located in a paddock not to mention having to dodge the rouge horses or livestock.

The third test: I then decided to cut flax when I had my mate wahine or period (mid-flow).

I cut enough rau or leaves for a kete. I then proceeded to prepare and weave that kete. But I struggled from the start.

I was grumpy, not at myself so much but I was making a point and testing my theory.

This was the hardest lesson. After passing the halfway made mark, I decided that my kete was the ugliest thing I had ever produced and all I wanted to do was cry, burn or bury it.

Upon reflection, the principles or Tikanga (being the right way of doing something) of Tapu and Noa which exist around cutting harakeke was based on what is practical.

In today’s terms, we call this best practice or safe work habits but I don’t want to minimise this notion to a term like best practice or safe work habits.

I realised that this tikanga is not something I should fear but something I should embrace.

This is something our Tupuna taught in order to keep me safe. However, I don’t think they intended for these ways and teachings to be used to keep me in a mindset of fear of what might happen to me.

I can only speak from the experience of testing what might happen to me.

But I found that this tikanga was created and passed on out of a heart of love for the discipline of raranga and out of love for me, their uri and out of a love for the natural environment and respect for what the materials or harakeke means to Māori.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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