A group of Northland women are heading to London in a quest to rediscover lost knowledge.

The weavers will spend three days in the British Museum studying Te Rā, the only sail woven by Māori still known to exist.

They had hoped to spend longer in the museum's Oceania Objects Store, which is in Shoreditch, East London, but three days is all the time they are permitted with the precious sail.

The intricately made sail, which is 4.5m tall and 2m across at its widest point, uses a unique hono, or join, which the women are keen to study. They will also study features such as the sail's pennant and bunches of notched feathers, the purpose of which is no longer known.


The weavers hope to work out how Te Rā was made, then bring the knowledge back to Aotearoa and use it to recreate a traditional sail.

Confirmed so far in the team travelling to London are Mandy Sunlight of Whangārei, Ruth Port of Ahipara and Rouati Ewens of Omanaia.

Sunlight said excitement was building as the February 7 departure date drew nearer. They were also stepping up their fundraising efforts via the PledgeMe crowdfunding platform as well as grant applications to Creative NZ and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.

The Kaikohekohe Weavers, who meet in Kaikohe once a fortnight, had also raised money by selling work at the recent Kerikeri Open Arts Studios Trail.

Sunlight said they aimed to raise $11,500 to help pay for accommodation and travel. If they raised more the surplus would help pay for the second phase of the project, when they hoped to recreate the sail.

So far, $3780 has been pledged through PledgeMe.

The weaving venue had yet to be confirmed but Pā Te Aroha Marae in Whirinaki, South Hokianga, was one possibility.

With so much knowledge to be re-learned recreating the sail could take as long as two years, Sunlight said.

"Seeing Te Rā is really powerful and emotional but the main focus is reclaiming those lost techniques, bringing them back and disseminating them."

The project is a response to an almost 100-year-old challenge laid down by Te Rangi Hīroa (Sir Peter Buck) to recreate a traditional sail before the skills were lost forever.

Also part of the team, but unable to travel to London due to other commitments, is senior master weaver Te Hemo Ata Henare of Moerewa.

Port said the team was blessed to have her extensive skills, knowledge and guidance.
Expert weaver and university lecturer Maureen Lander, who first saw Te Rā 20 years ago and piqued the women's interest in the sail, is also taking a keen interest.

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