Isaac Te Awa (Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu, Waitaha, Ngā Puhi)
Curator Mātauranga Māori, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
PUREWA MACGREGOR AND HER RARANGA FACE MASK
*List with definitions of Māori terms at the end of the article.
Purewa MacGregor (Ngāti-Tama-Rongo, Muaūpoko) is a Māori weaver currently based in Hastings, Aotearoa New Zealand. Her mother Tracey, Aunt Pare, and sister Niwa are all accomplished weavers with strong links to whiri techniques. Despite coming from a whānau of competent weavers, Purewa has only been weaving for four years. She credits her sister Niwa with initially teaching her the foundations of raranga before she was taken under the wing of well-known master weaver Fiona Jones.
Purewa’s development of the concept of the harakeke mask was in direct response to what she saw on television and in person in the build up to Alert Level 4 lockdown in March and April 2020.
”I saw Māori everywhere wearing scarves, bandanas, hats, and all sorts of things looking for a way of protection during the pandemic and I decided to create something for them. I wanted a way to help my community in a way that allowed them to be safe and be Māori.”
Purewa MacGregor, 2020
The foundation of the raranga mask is woven from boiled harakeke and lined with fabric which can be hand washed and air dried to ensure cleanliness. Purewa noted that all the construction techniques used are those she uses regularly in other woven taonga, therefore the adaptation to a mask was very easy. In order to make a product that was functional she liaised via email with Associate Professor for the University of Auckland Doctor Siouxsie Wiles who kindly offered advice on how to make sure the lining had adequate protection. This was important for Purewa who wanted to ensure she did her best to produce a quality mask. Although there is no formal study to demonstrate that these specific masks adequately protect from covid-19, the response from the Māori community has been significant and positive with Te Ao Māori News producing a story on Tuesday 7 April 2020.[i] Although she was part of the consulting for these masks Doctor Siouxsie Wiles also advised caution with their use.[ii]
In the past many of the visible aspects of Māori culture were suppressed by colonisation. With Covid, it feels like masks have the potential to supress our visible identities. Having items, like masks, that loudly identify with Māori practices continues the reclamation of culture and identity.
Purewa MacGregor, 2021
Purewa describes the response and demand for her masks as overwhelming. Initially priced at $50.00 each, Purewa was forced to raise the price to $100 in order to justify the time required by her to keep up with demand, as their production is time consuming and not based on making profit. The masks have been predominantly purchased by Māori men and the feedback she has received indicated that they are being worn by essential service workers, or people who feel they are in need of protection. During the initial lock down period, Purewa produced and sold at least 40 masks and is still asked to make them over a year later.
*Definition of Māori terms[iii]
Māori: indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Aotearoa: indigenous Māori name for New Zealand.
Whiri: Braid or plait.
Whānau: extended family.
Harakeke: Phormium tenax. New Zealand flax.
Taonga: treasure or prized possession.
[i] Te Ao – Māori News. 2021. ‘Hawkes Bay artist makes facemasks from harakeke’.
[ii] Sadler, R. 2021. ‘Coronavirus: Siouxsie Wiles warns harakeke face masks may not be protective’. News Hub.
[iii] Moorfield, John. 2003-2021. Te Aka Online Māori Dictionary.
Purewa wearing her Raranga Mask, 2020. Courtesy of Purewa MacGregor.