Six prisoners at Whanganui Prison have created taonga that will be handed down through their whānau.
What started as a course for two hours a week for three months to learn raranga (traditional weaving) using harakeke (flax) turned into something much bigger.
On Friday, October 19, the prisoners graduated from the raranga course, run as a pilot programme by Community Education Whanganui with tutor Juanita Davis. They learned the tikanga around weaving and how harakeke should be harvested. After starting out making flax flowers, the class learned to make various kete (baskets) then produced pōtae (hats) and, in an intensive two-week burst, created korowai (cloaks) representing their iwi.
"It's been an honour and a privilege to be here and pass on the knowledge of our ancestors to our men," Davis said.
"It's really cool to see men starting to have that interest in weaving again.
"They have blown me away to speechless. They completely embraced it and really absorbed themselves in the process. The work they were doing is next level. The cloaks weren't part of the original programme. They did two hours a week over three months and then did the cloaks in two weeks."
One of the prisoners said it had been an amazing experience.
"The learning curve was very steep but we had a good teacher and a good team able to work together and complement each other's skills and produce some pretty amazing work," he said.
"It connected me with my culture in a very spiritual way. My deepest gratitude for that knowledge. It was a rewarding experience."
Another prisoner said he felt good weaving the korowai "and I can't wait to start on another one".
After the cloaks were blessed, the men put them on and spoke about what they meant. Themes ranged from a legacy to their children who were represented by the feathers, to a love of nature, gardening and forests, to black and white signifying dark and light and finding a balance in life. One man included a feather to represent each of his classmates in his cloak.
Corrections Officer Bill Oliver said the men had worked on their weaving outside the classroom environment, using their recreational time to finish their work in time for the graduation ceremony.
They were also teaching the techniques to other prisoners who were interested.
Community Education board chairwoman Andrea Bullock said the work presented was "way beyond what I thought I was going to see".
"We're trying very hard to get funding so we can continue this course," Bullock said.
Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall encouraged the men to teach the techniques to their whānau when they were released.
"It's really important to pass the learning down to another generation," McDouall said.
Davis said the harakeke was sourced from various places but she particularly wanted to thank Ian Moore who had donated a huge amount of flax for the programme.