Te Vaka Teaches Traditional Costume Making in Ōtepoti

6 Jun 2024

Funding Stories

The Cook Island community organisation Te Vaka, has run a comprehensive series of workshops teaching local Cook Island youth in Dunedin the traditional skills and knowledge of making Cook Island costumes, known as ma'ani rakei ura.

The project aims to develop, grow, and pass down these important cultural practices to the next generation, ensuring they remain a vibrant and integral part of the community's identity.

Since last year, Te Vaka has hosted around 13 in-depth workshops where experienced Cook Island crafts women guide the local children and youth, ranging from 5 to 18 years old, through every step of the intricate costume-making process. Participants learn traditional techniques for weaving, dyeing, designing, and assembling the costumes using authentic materials such as feathers, shells, and tree bark.

Passing on these traditional skills and knowledge to young people is crucial, especially here in Dunedin where access to these specialised materials can be limited. By teaching them to modify the costumes to suit the colder climate, the community can ensure children can proudly perform and represent their heritage in Ōtepoti.

Having already performed at many local events, like the beloved Moana Nui Festival, the community felt they lacked the vibrant, traditional costumes that are so integral to Cook Island performance and cultural expression. These workshops change that, giving them the opportunity to not only learn the intricate craft, but to then showcase their skills and cultural identity.

In addition to the hands-on costume-making, the workshops provide invaluable opportunities for community engagement, knowledge-sharing, and intergenerational connection. Te Vaka facilitate volunteer support, adult supervision, and shared meals to foster a collaborative, supportive environment for the participating children and youth.