"These days, Korowai and Kākahu get used interchangeably and as generic terms for Māori cloaks. This wasn’t always the case though."
Kākahu is the Māori word for clothes but was also used as a general term when talking about Māori cloaks.
Traditionally, Māori identified several different types of cloak that were made and worn at different times in the past.
While Korowai is perhaps the most used term these days, traditionally it referred to one particular type of cloak.
A Korowai is decorated with tags called hukahuka that are made from muka or flax fibre and are usually died black. Commonly Korowai have a thicker band of tags along the top edge of the cloak, and then the rest of the cloak has a less dense covering of black tags.
Some of the older Korowai hukahuka, like those in the collection at Te Papa, are very plain, and only have the flax backing on the cloak, and the hukahuka tassels or tags. Some more modern korowai hukahuka are more highly decorated and can include woven Tāniko bands, and bands of feathers or fur.
A traditional Korowai with tassels or hukahuka. Godber Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.
Kaka Huruhuru is the name used for a Kākahu that is decorated with bird feathers. Traditionally, Kaka Huruhuru used feathers from many different native birds, including tūi, kākā and kereru. As you’d expect, making even a small Kaka Huruhuru involved using the feathers from a large number of birds.
This type of Kākahu is very highly prized, and a good example is the Kaka Huruhuru that Prime Minister Jacinda Adern worn when she met the Queen at Buckingham Palace in 2018.
As the name suggests, a Kahu Kiwi is a Māori cloak that is decorated with the very distinctive hair-like feathers of the Kiwi. Again, the feathers of a large number of birds were needed to make each cloak. Kahu kiwi have always been considered to be garments of very high prestige and were traditionally only worn by people with a lot of mana, for important occasions.
The distinctive hair-like feathers of the Kiwi in a Kahu Kiwi.
These Kākahu were made of the skin of Kuri, the polynesian dog that accompanied early Māori to Aotearoa. Traditionally, Kahu Kuri were the most precious type of cloak, and would have been worn by only the most important people, at very special occasions.
The Kuri became extinct in the 1860’s, meaning that surviving examples of Kahu Kuri are considered very precious taonga.
Modern Korowai and Kākahu
Māori cloaks, or Korowai as they are commonly known these days, are still seen as an important way to celebrate important events with whānau. The methods and materials used to make traditional Korowai and Kākahu mean that they are very expensive and are sometimes impossible to make these days.
Our Contemporary Korowai use designs, materials and methods that allow us to produce Korowai that look great, are sustainable, and are a perfect way to celebrate special occasions such as births, graduations, getting married, or funerals.
To find out more about the range of Korowai that we can make for you, see our shop.