Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Opinion feature: Waitati whare weaves educational excellence

I wonder how many folk in Blueskin Bay know that a Capping Ceremony
was held for 16 students on 5 May in Waitati. Where? Yes, a graduation
here in Waitati. To be precise, in Foyle Street in the Whare Wananga.

Who were these students? I ought to know because I was one of them: a
68-year-old pakeha woman. It was profoundly moving to step forward to
be capped, wearing the beautiful cloak. We had just completed a course
in the Maori University, Te Wananga o Aotearoa. The graduates came
from as far afield as Riverton and Christchurch, because apart from
Blenheim, Waitati boasts the only centre for the University's weaving,
carving and cultural studies in the South Island. We gathered under
the leadership of one of New Zealand's best master weavers. It may be
one of our best kept secrets but little Waitati is now on the national
map of Maori University courses.

The Whare Wananga o te Whanau Arohanui provides tuition in the above
skills in a quite inspirational style. We all feel ourselves to be
members of the family, the whanau. The course runs every second
weekend, from Friday night to Sunday afternnoon, but it's unlike any
other educational course I have experienced. Coming from a long
distance, many of the participants are accommodated overnight at the
whare. We begin with karakia, work together, eat together, help one
another, chat a lot, look after the kids. There's an awesome intensity
about it though. It's really hard work, but it's also quite
heart-warming. It's a total experience, from which educational centres
throughout new Zealand could learn heaps. Aty least that's what I
think.

What will you get out of it? Well the primary thing is the thrill of
gaining a new creativity, learning the age-old ways of dressing the
flax, dyeing the fibres and so on, and being part of a corporate
activity that produces the most beautiful artofacts imaginable. You
could start lioke me and gain an NZQA accredited te Wananga o Aotearoa
Certificate in Kawai Raupapa (Level 4). How long is the programme?
It's no small commitment: a 36-week programme at Level 4 with
practical and theoretical parts to it. A further two years at Level 5
and 6 are necessary to obtain a Diploma.

But these formal qualifications aren't the important thing. It's the
friendships you make, the taste of the warmth and wealth of Maori
culture, the privilege of learniung from a master weaver with a
wonderful knowledge of Maori arts and crafts. It's open to all and
costs nothing. If you're interested, why not drop by some time, maybe
at one of the open days, and see for yourself? You won't regret it.

by Heinke Sommer-Matheson

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