Te Manu Tukutuku (the Maori Kite)

Kite“Heritage is a precious taonga” it says in the introduction t0 Bob Maysmor’s book Te Manu Tukutuku.  Traditional kite-making knowledge and skills are brought to life in the pages of this edition.

In Otautahi, Christchurch, Kite Day is celebrated on the last Saturday of January every year. In 2011 it takes place on the afternoon of Saturday, 29 January on the south side of the pier at New Brighton beach.

Kites are part of the heritage of many different cultures.  For indigenous New Zealanders, kites were used for recreation and were also part of a spiritual tradition where the kite represents the connection between the tangata (the people) and the sky-dwelling deities, particularly Rongo (god of peace and cultivated plants) and Tane (god of forests and birds), Tawhaki (god of thunder and lightning) and Rehua (a star who lives in the highest of skies – eldest son of Rangi and Papa).  Maui was also adept at kite-flying and his association with kites has a much more utilitarian connection; when his kite was flying, there would be good weather, suitable for celebrating and for carrying out necessary work.

He KupengaKite-making originated in China, and this skill was picked up by Maori on their southward migration route centuries ago.  Many Polynesian kites are made in the likeness of a bird, representing the soul or spirit of the kite-flyer, hence the term ‘manu’.  Tuku means to pay out so tukutuku means the feeding out of the line as the kite is flown.

The native flora of Aotearoa provided a wide range of materials for kite-makers to use.  The bark of Aute ( paper mulberry)  is especially good for making fibrous cloth.  Leaves of the Raupo ( bullrush)  were also used to cover the kite-frame, particularly in the Southern areas which were unsuitable for growing Aute.  Upoko tangata (cutty grass)  is also recorded as being used for kite-wings. Kareao, Manuka and Toetoe were used for the frames and Harakeke was used for binding and for forming the feet of the birds.

Te Manu Tukutuku features lots of coloured illustrations of locally-made kites held at various museums in Aotearoa and overseas.  Many different types of kites and accessories are illustrated and lots of songs and proverbs featuring kites are scattered throughout the pages of this lavishly-presented pukapuka (book). 

 Particularly large kites were launched with great ceremony and kite-flying contests were held, attracting large crowds.  Instructions on how to make your own manu taratahi (triangular-shaped with a tuft tail – taratahi meaning one point) are at the back of the book if you want to have a go at traditional Aotearoan kite-making.  Bring it down to Brighton on Saturday and join in the kite-flying fun, or just build one and fly it anywhere, anytime!

Nicole Reddington

New Brighton

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