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Manu tukutuku - the kite culture of Māori

Images from
manu tukuku weekend



























Cosmological concepts

Detail of aute plant - this was traditionally used as covering material for manu tukutuku.

Respected elder and philosopher Māori Marsden, steeped in the teachings of the ancient whare wananga (sacred school of higher learning), described the universe as an interrelated, complex cosmology of a 'real' world and worlds beyond space and time (1).

Genealogy underpins the order of the universe and sets out the kinship of humanity to the heavens - the primal parents, Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (Earth mother), and their children. Some of these are particularly significant in the philosophy of Māori kites, for example, Tāne Mahuta (the god of humanity and the forest domain), Tangaroa (god of the ocean and all its descendants), and Tāwhirimatea (god of the winds).

The eternal realms, the worlds beyond physical perception, were the sources of infinite energy, potentiality, and knowledge. Tāne, or Tāwhaki according to other traditions, climbed the heavens to retrieve the three sacred kete (woven baskets) of knowledge, each of which contained specific knowledge bases.

One version recalls the ascent of Tāwhaki on a kite made from aute (paper mulberry).(2)

Another version describes his ascent on a hawk. (3)

Humanity’s ascent into the heavens was a powerful metaphor for the attainment of divine knowledge and communication with the gods. Ritual kite-flying was associated with deities such as Tāne Mahuta (Tāne the flyer), Rehua (Venus), Tāwhaki, and Rongomatane (god of peace and cultivated foods). It indicated the complex relationships between humanity and the entities of sky and earth.

Birds were also considered to be spiritual messengers and were a symbolic reference for kites. Large kites with intricate frames of manuka covered with aute bark fibre were human-like – birdman kites. One large birdman kite was recorded to have had the skeletons of young birds inside the hollow head ‘to make a rattling or rumbling noise as the kite was lifted up by the wind.' (4)

The kite’s ascent, aided by karakia (invocations), was a metaphysical means of communication between tohunga (spiritual experts) and the gods of the heavens. Divination, the ability to see ‘beyond’ the real world, was said to be practised by tohunga through these means. Such kites were called manu whara.

Kites used for divination
Raupatu, Te kaea, and The Waiohau fraud, oil on canvas, neon, green stone, and stainless steel, by Robert Pouwhare.

An artistic interpretation of manu whara, with a contemporary political edge, was included in the Wings exhibition. Ngāi Tuhoe artist Robert Pouwhare originally created the stunning three-part artwork, titled Te Kaea, Raupatu, and The Waiohau Fraud, for Mana Tiriti, the Art of Peace and Partnership exhibition at the Wellington City Art Gallery in 1990.

Says Pouwhare: ‘My own manu whara is called Te Kaea. I send it into the winds of Tawhirimatea to divine what has happened to Māori land since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The messages from Te Kaea, transmitted through te aho tukutuku (the cord), I have interpreted onto two canvases which complete the artwork.

‘The first painting, Raupatu, depicts the military campaigns in the Urewera, (Pouwhare’s tribal area) from 1865-1872, and the land confiscated by the Government. The other canvas, The Waiohau Fraud, is a map of the 14,000 acres of prime land fraudulently acquired by two Europeans in the late 1880s, which resulted in the eviction of the Patuheuheu hapū from their papakäinga at Te Houhi in 1905 (5).

(1) Marsden, M and Henare, TA 1992
(2) Anderson 1928:170
(3) Potae 1928:362

(4) Walsh 1912: 380
(5) Mana Tiriti exhibition catalogue

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