Raranga is a form of weaving using a plaiting technique. It is done by hand only, with no loom. The practice of Raranga did not originate in New Zealand. It was brought to Aotearoa New Zealand by the ancestors of Māori – the first Pacific settlers. These settlers used weaving out of necessity as they were not able to grow the plants that were normally used for fabric. This is because the climate in New Zealand was very different to the climate the settlers originated from.
Raranga originally had practical uses – being used for items that related to survival such as ropes, baskets, and fishing nets. Floor mats was also a common item to weave. It was developed over time into a highly specialized art form. Cloaks are even made using the form of weaving.
Harakeke (New Zealand flax), pīngao (golden sand sedge), and kiekie (a type of palm) are the plants used by Māori weavers. Harakeke was, and still is, the most widely used weaving material in New Zealand.
The weaver uses strips of the chosen material and uses an even number of strips to create a diagonal pattern. Using a combination of dyed and undyed strips can create intricate and colourful patterns.
The practice of weaving was usually done by women. These weavers who were highly skilled became prized in their tribes. A well-known Māori proverbs translates as ‘Marry the woman who is always at the flax bush, for she is an expert flax worker and an industrious person’ (‘Aitia te wahine o te pā harakeke’).
The cloaks woven in the Raranga method were usually created by weaving between two upright pegs. As the weaving progressed, the weaver would incorporate feathers and beads in the fabric. The weavers would even dye the fabric, creating a black with swamp mud (paru) and a dark brown from bark (tanekaha).