Māori woman reignites tikanga connection through weaving

For Heretaunga-based weaver Purewa MacGregor, the path to embracing her taha Māori hasn't been easy.

"Growing up I didn't feel at all connected to tikanga. I was very disconnected to who I was as Māori."

But it's a connection she's reignited through mahi raranga, or weaving.

"Harakeke came to me when I was ready."

Because growing up in the rural heartland of Opunake in Taranaki, MacGregor struggled with her identity and being Māori.

She grew up in the long shadow of the Taranaki land wars, which saw the Crown confiscate 1.2 million acres of land from her people.

"There only seemed to be small pockets of where being Māori was celebrated, and unfortunately I just wasn't living in one."

Weaving was her strong connection back to Te Ao Māori, with her mum and aunties taught by the late-acclaimed weaver Erenora Puketapu Hetet.

But MacGregor never felt connected to raranga.

"Growing up, I was completely disinterested in anything Māori, in fact, I wanted to be a Pākehā, that's how I really felt growing up."

But in 2017 during a dark period of personal tragedies, a simple piece of weaving would help MacGregor find her way back to the light. 

Her mum gave her a chord to plait for her pounamu.

"It was a moment of complete revelation. I felt, 'Oh, wow, it was only a chord,' but I felt so pleased with myself."

This would plant the first seeds of her weaving journey.

Today, MacGregor is weaving full time, mixing traditional techniques with contemporary design.

"I just pore over patterns and I research them to make sure when I'm putting them together, they make sense."

Her unique style has captured a loyal following on social media, and her COVID-inspired masks sparked interest last year.

They even caught the attention of curators at Te Papa Tongarewa and her work is now part of its weaving collection.

"It really does mean a lot because I've spent a lot of my life not really having that positive affirmation."

Someone who's helped to open MacGregor's eyes to the power of harakeke is her sister Niwa Ngamare Brightwell.

"It's got the power to change people's lives," Ngamare Brightwell says.

"It's healing, it's protective, it's soothing, it's calming - totally a way to connect to your tupuna knowledge."

Today, Ngamare Brightwell is using weaving to create a positive impact for mums in Pa Harakeke, or Flaxmere.

She runs Te Whare Pora, a purpose-built facility where expecting mums create wahakura or traditional bassinets for babies.

"What I've noticed about making wahakura with our wahine Maori is that they are making a deliberate preparation for their new life.

For MacGregor, it's incredible to see Māori re-claiming their traditional matauranga through mahi toi or Māori arts.

"We're amazing people, we've endured atrocities and look at our culture now, you know, we're the power of Aotearoa."

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.

Māori woman reignites tikanga connection through weaving