Chairman Mao’s feather cloak (kahu huruhuru)

31 October 2012

A beautiful kahu huruhuru (feather cloak) from the collection of the National Museum of China will go on show during Te Papa’s touring exhibitions Kura Pounamu: Treasured Stone of Aotearoa New Zealand and Brian Brake: Lens on China and New Zealand, which open at the Museum in Beijing on 31 October 2012 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and China.

This cloak was originally presented to Chairman Mao Zedong in 1957 by Ramai Te Miha Hayward, on behalf of King Korokī, as a gift of goodwill to the leaders of China.

Ramai, of Ngāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungunu, and her English born husband Rudall, were pioneer film makers for New Zealand. They were invited by the Chinese to film in China, producing two documentaries and a children’s film including Inside Red China, which shows Ramai placing the feather cloak around Chairman Mao’s shoulders.

Ramai gave a full account of this experience, published in New Zealand Women In China[1]:

“October 1st 1957. It was National Day and a most exciting public holiday with many functions being held. We knew that in the evening we would have an opportunity to present the feather cloak from King Korokī, as a gesture of goodwill from the Maori nation, so I was dressed in a piupiu that Princess Te Puea had given me…

“Then someone came over and took Ron and me over to where Chairman Mao was standing with Premier Chou En Lai and indicated that I could present the cloak to Mao. He had an interpreter, and I was standing barefooted with my interpreter right in front of him.

“Mao greeted me, and then I put the cloak on his shoulders and tied it. I said it was a gift from our Maori king of Aotearoa New Zealand, a gift of goodwill to the leaders of China. I said

“We are the smallest nation in the world, giving this gift to the largest nation in the world.” He smiled and said, reassuringly, ‘The smallest is as great as the largest.’”

In 2004 the New Zealand Ambassador to China, John McKinnon, having read Ramai’s account and having viewed the documentary Inside Red China, tried to find the cloak. He wrote that staff of the New Zealand Embassy took over a year to track down the cloak. They found it stored in the National Museum of China, among other foreign gifts to China’s leaders.

Te Papa is currently working with the National Museum of China and other agencies to piece together the full history of the cloak and hopes to borrow it from China to display in New Zealand for a short period next year.

The description of the cloak is as follows:

“The kaupapa (base) is wool. The feathers are chicken, ring-necked pheasant, mallard duck, toroa (albatross), and pūkeko (swamp hen).”[2]

Media contact

Tina Norris, Corporate Communications Manager
04 381 7233 or 021 225 7538

[1] New Zealand Women in China, Tom Newnham, 1995:p 94-101, Graphic Publications
[2] Feather identification from Hokimate Harwood, bi-cultural science researcher, Te Papa