A woven gift was one of the high points of a Masterton school’s week-long celebration of Matariki.

At a pōwhiri yesterday, weaver Manaia Carswell presented Fernridge School with a gift of two kākahu [cloaks made from flax] that held special meaning.

Carswell’s three children had attended Fernridge, and she said the kākahu commemorated her whānau’s 10 years at the school.

“They [kākahu] are something to say ‘ngā mihi’ and also something to say ‘haere rā’,” Carswell said.

The kākahu would live in the school foyer, but students would also have opportunities to wear them while performing kapa haka.

Fernridge School's kakahu

Fernridge Schools’ kakahu.

Carswell said she had not been a weaver for long but quickly became obsessed with the practice after her mother’s death prompted her to connect with her tapa Māori [Māori side].

“Weaving is hard. It is amazingly rewarding, but it is very hard. It is physical, monotonous mahi, and you have to have faith in your vision as you go through hours upon hours of prep work and weaving mahi.”

Carswell studied online through the Hetet School of Māori Art and, within three years, went from weaving a kono [small basket] to a korowai [cloak].

“You can do anything out of flax – wall hangings, art pieces. This is what I do now; this is my job.

“But it’s not the fact that you can weave anything. It’s the story you can put into it.

“It’s all about the kōrero – what it represents. That’s my favourite part of weaving.”

After Carswell’s mother died, she wove three kete [baskets] for herself and her two sisters,

“When we have these kete, we know that we can all be connected in our missing of our mum.”

She said the kākahu she wove for Fernridge had taken about 400 hours of work and were taonga tuku iho – treasures passed down from ancestors.

“Our children are also gifts passed down from our ancestors. It seemed fitting.

“When the kids wear them – or even when they see them – I want them to think of striving for excellence, being connected to our natural world, and having a sense of pride in the school.”

Principal Janine Devenport was overcome with emotion during the presentation of the gifts.

“My heart is very full and overflowing with this treasure that you have given to us,” she said.

“Matariki is a time of new beginnings and remembering our past.

“There is one star, Hiwa-i-te-rangi, which is all about hopes and dreams. These kākahu represent the hopes and dreams that you have for our kura [school].

“We promise to honour this gift, and we will do our very best to achieve the hopes and dreams of this amazing taonga and to whakamana [enact] it as much as we possibly can.”

Fernridge students accept the kakahu.

The gifts came during a week devoted to learning about Matariki, leading up to New Zealand’s first-ever public holiday for the Māori New Year.

Fernridge School students and staff gathered on their field yesterday morning to stargaze before sunrise.

Students had painted mason jars with glow paint, which were charged with a backlight to illuminate the path to the field.

After the pōwhiri, the school enjoyed the results of a hāngī they had prepared the day before.

“We’ve spent the whole week on Matariki, learning about it, celebrating it, and all the special things it means. It’s one of those key things we should all know about.”

Devenport said Fernridge students could then bring their Matariki lessons home to their whānau and become teachers in their own right.

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