Hard work coming to an end

By Rebecca Malcolm

The spotlight will be on the teams competing in Te Matatini this week - but plenty goes on behind the scenes in the lead-up, as Rebecca Malcolm reports.

Creating costumes for some of Te Arawa's leading kapa haka figures is both a passion and a gift for Donna Waiariki - although just a few days out from the big festival she sometimes wonders if it is more of a curse.

For the best part of the last year, Mrs Waiariki has been working on costumes for those set to perform in Te Matatini. For the past four months the work has been all-encompassing as the pressure goes on ahead of the teams hitting the stage.

"It is a gift but two weeks out I start to think, is this a gift or is it a curse?" she joked.

She said pretty much as soon as the teams competing in the nationals had been selected, work started on preparing for Te Matatini.

"The last four months it has been absolutely hectic."

The Ngati Rangiwewehi/Ngararanui descendant has been involved in the costumes for four of the six Te Arawa teams - Manaia, Kataore, Te Mataarae i Orehu and Nga Uri o Te Whanoa.

Work has ranged from dressing the leaders of some through to making the piupiu.

She's also been involved in doing hair pieces and other items for some teams from further afield.

Work ranges from replacing piupiu to helping to create entire costumes.

"Groups will often have a pattern and they own that. You can see a group with piupiu on and know who they are."

From being out in the field, mud on her hands cutting flax right through to the intricacies of adding the finishing touches, the creation of the costumes can take quite some time - with leaders' costumes often taking about twice as long as others.

"We dress the best of the best. We are humbled by it."

Mrs Waiariki discovered the world of weaving when she started working at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, now known as Te Puia.

Working as a guide, she admits she knew virtually nothing about weaving until she ended up in the weaving department.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Mrs Waiariki said she was fortunate to have started at Te Puia "back in the day", learning the craft off talented women like Emily Schuster, Bubbles Mihinui and the women of Tuhourangi Ngati Wahiao.

"They were women renowned for their skill."

It's a skill she is now passing on to daughter Tia, who has been working with her for about five years.

Her involvement in Te Matatini began in 1992 when she made her first costumes for Ngati Rangiwewehi - costumes that would win the group an award.

She took a break for about eight years then returned, first basing herself at Whakarewarewa Village before moving into her new space at Tamaki Tours.

Mrs Waiariki said she was "a traditionalist" when it came to creating the costumes, and liked to keep them as traditional as possible while still remaining unique.

"We like to bring originals on to the stage."

They like to do everything possible by hand - which means if a mistake is made it can be a timely process to fix it.

Come this week, Mrs Waiariki said they would be behind the scenes helping to dress where needed.

"It's not unusual for us to go and miss half the groups."

She said seeing the groups in their outfits and performing was the high.

"There's been a lot of mahi [work] over the past 12 months.

"When Thursday comes we will forget about all this and sit back and enjoy," she said.

"It's a highlight to sit back and see a lot of our work on stage and to know we've played a small part in helping those groups."

Mrs Waiariki said she relied on a close circle of people to help, including "Bones", who dyes all the piupiu.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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