Harnessing the winds: Reclaiming knowledge and reconstructing Te Rā, an ancient Māori sail.


Connecting the sky and ocean, sails provided the means by which our Polynesian and Māori ancestors traversed Te Moana Nui a Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). Held in the British Museum collection, Te Rā, is an intriguing piece of Māori technology. It is a traditional Māori sail woven in native plant material and the only known sail of its kind in existence today. Although Te Rā was closely studied by early ethnographers, its cultural context, has been largely overlooked. We propose to discuss Te Rā as indigenous researchers; one a weaving practitioner, the other a museum professional. In this paper we seek to give voice to how taonga ‘instantiate’ deep beliefs about a Māori view of the world by exploring Te Ra’s woven techniques employed in the construction, and the cultural values she embodies. The challenge for us today is to ensure that this integral part of our culture as a seafaring people remains not as a relic in a museum. but as a signpost for how we might reclaim embodied ancestral knowledge of restorative and healing values for Māori and indigenous communities