Her passion to teach korowai weaving lies in its power to support wāhine (women) through times of grief, and as a way to give mana or power back to their whānau who need it most.
Through this, she’s made dark days light with joy and laughter for many wāhine across New Zealand and this is one of the reasons Maata McManus, brought up at Tūrangawaewae Marae, received a Queen’s Service Medal in 2017 for her services to Māori and health.
She revitalised the art of weaving korowai, traditional Māori cloaks, across New Zealand with her workshops that have been running for more than 20 years.
Maata is a Kaitiaki (guardian) at Waikato DHB’s Te Puna Oranga (Māori Health Services), where she promotes Community
Oral Health services to 0-18 years across the region.
She began her career at the DHB as a Kaitiaki after leaving Māori SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome) where she was moved by the tremendous sorrow felt when a whānau lost a baby.
“This is where my passion came from,” says Maata.
“I wanted to find a way to support them and so I weaved a small korowai for a baby, to give the whānau comfort and pride at that very sad time.
“After I’d made a few small korowai, colleagues started asking me to teach them. At first I’d say no, but after a while I started to think seriously about it.”
This was in 1998. Maata now holds monthly weaving classes; one weekend she’ll fly down to Bluff on the Friday, to teach over the weekend and fly’s back Sunday. The weekend after she teaches at Tūrangawaewa Marae.
To celebrate her network of weavers’ success, Maata holds a bi-annual korowai ball at Tūrangawaewa Marae for students to showcase their masterpieces.
Maata’s also spent some time at the DHB’s Breast and Cervical Screening services. At this time Māori wāhine in the Waharoa, Maniapoto, Raukawa, Hauraki, Waikato community, and surrounding areas weren’t getting regular and important breast and cervical screenings.
Maata offered her korowai classes to this group in return for them to get their screenings.
“These groups put together nine small korowai and then we presented them back to their local marae” says Maata.
“We had some lovely times, lots of laughs, the women were really happy, but most importantly the check-up numbers of Māori wāhine increased.”
The art of korowai
“I’ve been weaving since 1995, my aunty Rangihinemutu Rawiri taught me, just as she was taught by her ruruhi Mona Pinga.”
Maata learnt to sew two Korowai in 1983; she always wanted to learn to weave but thought no one could teach her; until she showed her sewn korowai to her aunty who thought it was lovely – until a feather fell out, and that’s the moment her aunty said she’d teach Maata how to weave.
Wāhine, and some tāne (males), attend Maata’s classes for a variety of reason, whether it be as a gift to their whānau, for a tangi (funeral), a mārena (wedding), graduation or birthday – a korowai is always created and worn as a mantle of pride and honour.
Everyone brings their own feathers and they start by watching Maata weave, the way she learnt, and as they pick it up she keeps a close eye on their work. Maata is a perfectionist, because her teachings are a reflection of the workmanship of her teachers and mentors.
“If I think my weavers are doing it wrong I’ll make them start again” she states.
“I had a lady that came to learn and she started her whānau korowai, however she did not return to the wānanga (workshop) for twelve months, when she was on the last row. I looked at her korowai, it had a big bump at the bottom corner and I said sorry we need to cut it back so you can start again.
“She was so annoyed that when she started her korowai again she did ten rows. She was so determined, that it took her three months to finish and it was beautiful. She was very grateful that I made her start again and I tell this story to every new person so that they look and listen.”
A korowai has thousands of feathers, some will take years to make, but you could complete a whānau korowai in three months Maata says.
“If you weave one row a night, there’s 30 days in a month, two months is 60 rows and most of them have to do 68 rows, so in the last month you have to do your 8 rows to finish and then do your taniko (cast off), finish the back and you’re finished.
“Everyone says I make it sound easy” she says with a twinkle in her eye.
“Not everyone has a korowai, because of its sense of belonging and meaning a whole whānau can cherish”.
“I’ve taught a lot of grieving women – lost love ones, marriage breakups – they’ve been lonely and by weaving korowai it brought them out of this state.”
Some who’ve been on Maata’s workshops come out different people.
“When you’re weaving it gives you time to think, you think about a lot of things, or you just think about what feathers you’ll need for the next one – it really clears the mind.”
Maata’s made 29 korowai over the years and she says the workshops and her ability to teach and weave has been all thanks to the help of some of the wāhine who’ve attended her classes, her children and their mokopuna (grandchildren).
“I would also like to thank my husband, he has been a tower of strength for me. With my friends and whānau support I thank them so much” Maata lastly states.
More about Maata’s workshops
To find out more about Maata’s workshops email [email protected]
Read more about series of wānanga being held in the deep south by Maata that have reignited a passion and excitement among the local wāhine for the traditional practice of weaving: http://ngaitahu.iwi.nz/our_stories/toi-ihoweaving-thread-binds-past-future/.