The Duchess of Sussex has been given a woven korowai (Māori cloak) to wear at Ōhinemutu before she stepped on to Te Papaiouru Marae ātea.

The korowai creator, Ngāti Whakaue elder and artist Norma Sturley, says in Māori history women tupuna (ancestors) have always had a prominent role. A Māori chieftainess had a korowai to demonstrate her rangātiratanga (chiefly authority) and women also fought in battles - not taking a backseat for their gender.

"We see the Duchess as representing strong kaupapa [values] for women - she displays aroha [love], manaakitanga [nurturing and hospitality], mana [influence], dignity and strength, all signs of great leadership.

As for the Duchess' pregnancy, the korowai also holds representations for this exciting news.

Norma Sturley created a korowai (cloak) for the Duchess of Sussex. Photo / File
Norma Sturley created a korowai (cloak) for the Duchess of Sussex. Photo / File

"The korowai is like a protector, to wrap a korowai around someone is to envelop them in strength, warmth and aroha. In Māori history, korowai were made initially to keep people warm. Coming from the warmer climate of Hawaiki we adapted by weaving clothes using materials such as harakeke [flax] to keep warm, she explains.

Sturley says the tāniko base of the korowai is inspired by the Coat of Arms for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, using silk colours of blue, gold, white and red.

"The tāniko represents the coming together of two people and cultures with each side representing their whakapapa [family and genealogy]. The Duchess' tāniko pattern features three white quills from the coat of arms representing the powers of words and communication, and the Californian sunshine is shown in the use of rays of gold. The blue speaks of the separation of Aotearoa and England with the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Duchess' links to the Pacific Ocean. The red symbolises royalty. The tāniko weaving design also showcases manaakitanga as Ngāti Whakaue want to nurture the Royal couple as a thank you for visiting Papaiouru."

Sturley has had her works included as part of national exhibitions, for international dignitaries and in museums overseas. She learnt to weave as a child at Waikuta marae in Rotorua, picking up the skill from her grandmother and mother who wove all their lives. She has been weaving with her husband Terry Sturley (an Englishman she taught the skill to) for more than 40 years.

Sturley explains that to make the korowai for the Duchess of Sussex, her husband cut harakeke and stripped it using a mussel shell to get the muka (fibre) out. He then beat the fibre on a stone until it was soft and white, before boiling it in tutu leaves for softening and colour. Sturley then began the process of miro (rolling the fibre on her legs) to join the fibres into long lengths, before starting to weave.

The pheasant feathers were plucked, washed, dried and separated into sizes and colours by Sturley and then Sturley used mostly brown pheasant feathers, with some blue and green to represent the Pacific Ocean on the body of the korowai.

The korowai will be worn by the Duchess as she is welcomed onto Te Papaiouru Marae ātea, then inside Tamatekapua Meeting House. Before lunch, the korowai will be removed, as it is not to be worn around food.