Kākahu weaver hopes pākehā students carry on legacy

The art of kākahu weaving is helping bring the community of Pukekohe together.

For Pukekohe weaver Emily Whyte, creating korowai is at the centre of her world and her home.

"I started off in my whare. I had four students there two kuia that knew how to weave and they were teaching me how to weave."

Ten years ago she started a journey to bring her community together by starting a korowai making class. It's an idea she picked up after attending weaving classes at Papakura Marae.

"When I first went to Papakura I walked into those double doors - and I saw every walk of life in that room."

Her weaving class - Whāriki o Te Ao - is held every Wednesday, and is no longer taught from her home but from a shed outside Ngā Hau E Wha Marae in Pukekohe.

Emily Whyte.
Emily Whyte. Photo credit: The Hui

Emily teaches students the art of korowai or kākahu weaving using traditional methods - but with non-traditional materials such as cotton. More than 500 weaving students have passed through the class.

Glennis Robinson is one of the students who've been under Emily's wing the longest.

"I was thinking about doing it for a couple of years before I had the courage to go along - and I'm glad I did."

Although Glennis Robinson is pākehā, her husband and tamariki are Māori.

"I always wanted one for my own family. So now all they've all got one each."

Emily says she doesn't know how much longer she will teach the class - but says she wants her pākehā students to carry on her legacy.

"They're here every week and they look after the place. I always mention these ladies and they're there beside me so my Māori people can see who I'm talking about."

For Glennis, taking over the class comes with its own challenges.

"She's taught us well but for us to teach other Māori students and that - it's a bit difficult for pākehā."

In the last decade, Emily's gone to great efforts to showcase the works of her students in public. Nansi Thompson is the facility manager of the Franklin Art Gallery in Pukekohe and over the years she's developed a close bond with Emily.

"She has been incredibly generous towards sharing her skills with anyone who wanted to learn korowai."

The metaphor of weaving goes further than the korowai in the work Emily does. Nansi Thompson says she can see Emily continuing to strengthen the threads she's already woven.

"She bridges all the time, she's introducing Māori to Pākehā and Pākehā to Māori in her classes - she brings people in."

The Hui