Porirua Cook Islands women gather every Wednesday at Te Akapuanga Hall in Cannons Creek to revive one of Cook Islands treasures, the tivaevae (quilt), for an exhibition planned in July.
With the help of Taeaomanino Trust, these women were provided with sewing machines, scissors, cotton and materials through Whānau Ora fund to do what they do best – knitting and cutting unique Pacific patterns for tivaevae.
Ngaro Teuruaa, 78, has a passion for tivaevae making and is willing to share her knowledge with other women.
“I am determined to lead this group of women which started as six members, mainly Cook Island mamas who came together to share their love of tivaevae making. Today we have Samoan and Tokelauan mothers who are part of the group and we open up to all mothers willing to learn.”
“I’ve been doing tivaevae for many years. I always watched my mother back in the Cook Islands measure the materials under an orange tree.”
“I observed her every move from drawing patterns to the cutting but I have to say it didn’t look hard at the time. Now I look back at how my mother did it, she made it look easy,” smiles Mrs Teuruaa.
“I think that’s where my passion for tivaevae started.”
Mrs Teuruaa says she finds comfort in tivaevae making.
“I have 8 children, 27 grandchildren and 34 great grandchildren. Making tivaevae is special. The importance of tivaevae cannot be understated.”
“We make them for our children. I never sold a piece unless a family approached me. We make tivaevae for special occasions or for important visitors.”
Mrs Teuruaa says old age is starting to kick in but she does it out of love for her family.
“I do it for my family and I am always willing to pass on my knowledge to my children and our Pacific women who have an interest in tivaevae making.”
“Tivaevae are a treasured item in the Cook Islands. You will see colourful embroidered or appliqued quilts displayed on special occasions. It is an artwork and every person has their own special design.”
The time spent stitching the tivaevae can be days, weeks or even months.
Cook Island born Teaue Robati, 64, known to many as ‘Mama Donut’ is all too familiar with time involved in tivaevae making.
“I weave and I also make tivaevae. I am self-taught. Growing up in the Cook Islands I learned how to make baskets, fans, mats, and cushions to care for my family.”
“I weave for the church and now I am part of this small group of beautiful women trying to revive one of our Cook Island treasures.”
“It was very hard to start up; we have so much passion for tivaevae making but we couldn’t afford the materials. Everyone chipped-in and we are very thankful for the Whānau Ora assistance that enabled us to do what we like to do best, teach other women and encourage more to join our group.”
“I’m known as Mama Donut in the group as I bake beautiful donuts. I bake donuts for our get together for tivaevae making. I love being a part of this group, getting together to bond, sing songs and catch up on Island gossip.”
“I’m enjoying myself. In the meantime, I’m making a bed spread in case my son will get married one day and I will share this on his special day. I am also making other tivaevae for my grandchildren.”
The beauty of tivaevae making is the sharing of cultural values, not for business.
This is the reason why Feiloaiga Maene, 50, joined the group.
“I was at the doctors the other day and I saw one of the mamas there knitting this beautiful material. I was amazed and I told her I would love to learn one day what she’s doing and she invited me to this group.”
“Two months on I am now part of the group attempting to make my first tivaevae but most importantly I am part of a beautiful fellowship of women who have so much passion for culture and learning.”
“I am Tokelauan-Tuvaluan. I’m still trying to find my Cook Island roots. I come from a musical background and I was the lead singer in our family band in the 1970s. I never imagined that one day I would learn how to sew or be making a tivaevae.”
“I’ve been told each stitch has a meaning and every tivaevae tells a story.”
“Colours are important, as are the designs and patterns. Every mother produces a tivaevae for a reason. We have unique patterns – It is like our own intellectual property,” laughs Mrs Meane.
“I love working with bright colours and handstitched cotton tivaevae. I’m learning as much as I can and hopefully next moth I’ll have a piece ready to display.”
Theresa Nimarota, Chief Executive Taeaomanino Trust says the Trust recognises the value of this group as an important part of reviving culture and language.
“It is the sharing and passing down of knowledge and caring for each other, and having a place for our mamas to come together to stitch and learn and pass on their knowledge to younger generations.”
“We are grateful for the Whānau Ora funding to help them out and enable them to host other people to visit their group and talk with these women as part of learning.”
About 50 women are now part of the group and there is still a lot of interest.
“The only concern we have is that the hall can be very cold in Winter and some are finding it very hard to work with stitching especially those with arthritis. We are looking for funding to be able to help us to secure a long-term venue for these women to do what they love,” says Ms Nimarota.
“The tivaevae project is amazing. You will hear a lot of singing and laughter, and witness the great fellowship these women have.”
“Our mamas are keen to display their tivaevae and we felt an exhibition would be a wonderful opportunity to showcase their work for the public, giving them the chance to see these fabulous artistic creations.”
The group does not have a name yet but they are known as the Project Mama’s Tivaevae group for now.
These Porirua women will display their work in an exhibition at Pataka Museum in Porirua on 29-30 July.
Don’t miss it!