Flax bassinets keeping Northland weaver busy

By Mikaela Collins -
1 comment
Expert weaver Cassandra Moar says it's a special connection when she meets mothers who have used wahakura waikawa, woven bassinets, which she has woven. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Expert weaver Cassandra Moar says it's a special connection when she meets mothers who have used wahakura waikawa, woven bassinets, which she has woven. Photo / Michael Cunningham

In the front yard of her Whangarei home Cassandra Moar sits under a tree with flax in her hand weaving a wahakura waikawa - a woven bassinet.

Two completed wahakura waikawa - wahakura meaning "a place where babies sleep" and waikawa the name of the style of the weave - sit in front of her.

Ms Moar has been weaving since she was "a kid" but has been making wahakura for about five years. She makes 20 in a day.

"Mum was a weaver, my sister weaved, everybody up the road used to weave and so it is just second nature," she said.

The wahakura was developed as a culturally appropriate alternative to direct bed sharing to tackle the high rates of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI). In Northland from 2010-2014, 11 of the 15 SUDI deaths were Maori.

While wahakura are used by many, there had been no direct evidence about their safety until a joint study between the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic found when compared with bassinets there were no significant differences. The women who were given wahakura for the study, however, showed an increase in sustained breastfeeding.

Ms Moar said the study was "amazing". She was introduced to wahakura by David Tipene-Leach, who was one of the researchers leading the study.

"I love them, they actually work and it's not just for Maori although Maori can gravitate to them quicker because it's flax and it conjures up all these memories of tupuna and being out on the marae. But the connection between the harakeke and Papatuanuku and our babies is just so intense."

Mrs Moar is contracted by Northland DHB to weave wahakura and said she also makes them for other DHBs. She has been asked to weave 100 wahakura for national kapa haka competition Matatini as well as one for each marae.

She also leads about 24 wananga per year showing people, usually beginner weavers, how to make wahakura.

Mrs Moar said she believed some people did not realise how much work went into creating wahakura which required collecting the flax, stripping it and weaving. The most difficult part of the process was finding the flax.

"To get that much, four bags in a day, I have to go to Dargaville, I'll go to Rawene, I'll go way out of town up Whangaroa and I'll pick as much as I can," she said.

Four or five bags make 20 wahakura.

However, Ms Moar said she didn't feel pressured making wahakura and loved meeting mothers who used them.

"It's quite an emotional and spiritual exchange. I've had them come back to me a couple of years after. It's wonderful. You know you're doing the right thing and on the right path because you've saved another baby."

Lisa McNab, Te Tai Tokerau regional adviser for Whakawhetu - a kaupapa Maori programme dedicated to Mokopuna Ora and reducing the rate of SUDI, said it was "awesome" to have a study which proved the benefits of wahakura .

"When studies are done to support measures we know work, it is such a positive move," she said.

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