Aug 14 / Veranoa Hetet

KО̄RERO / Is that a Korowai?

Quite often the term "korowai" is used to speak of "cloaks" The term for "cloaks" is "nga kākahu". A "korowai" is a type of cloak. A "korowai" is adorned with hukahuka (tassles) and sometimes feathers - but ALWAYS - the main adornment is hukahuka. This is a korowai.
A Korowai Veranoa Hetet wove in 2015 for the Ako Aotearoa Awards
A Korowai Veranoa Hetet wove in 2015 for the Ako Aotearoa Awards

The Real thing vs Imitation 'korowai'

I know that I've been privileged to grow up in a family where access to the real thing has been literally everyday. I'm sorry that all whānau Māori have not had the same access to this part of our cultural heritage, knowledge and skills. It's one of the unfortunate consequences of colonisation: it became much easier to acquire machine produced fabric than to laboriously weave by hand traditional garments such as korowai. Very quickly (within just a few generations) the tradition of korowai and other kãkahu weaving, as a commonly practiced skill, died out.
A Korowai is handwoven using the whatu technique. A full length korowai woven from muka (flax fibre) with hukahuka can take from 4 - 12 months to make, depending on the weaver, the dimensions and the design. It takes as much time to prepare muka (flax fibre) to weave a Korowai as it does to actually weave it. There's a lot of hard graft getting that muka ready. If woven with cotton, the time will be shorter.

Feathers sewn on fabric is NOT a Korowai. 

I will never accept a bit of material with feathers and bits of wool sewn on as being a Korowai. That simply belittles the months and months of hard work that goes into creating, from muka, a korowai such as the one pictured above. Although I understand why some people sew feathers on fabric to make 'cloaks' I think it's cheating the public and unsuspecting layperson to call these type of creations 'Korowai'. They're easily and quickly made in comparison to the real deal. Sadly, the authenticity and integrity of what I know as Korowai, the artform of Korowai, is compromised.

How much does a Korowai cost?

I get asked this a lot and people are often surprised at the answer. The feathers-sewn-on-fabric type of 'cloak' will set you back from several hundred to several thousand dollars. The real deal - a korowai woven from muka using the whatu technique - should cost anything from $12,000 up. When you think about it that's pretty cheap labour for at least 4-6 months weaving constantly for a minimum of 40 hours a week. You're essentially hiring a highly experienced weaver at a rate of $20 an hour. Personally, I think that's a very fair price to pay for a rare piece and the time and skill of a dedicated weaver.