Rain cloak of New Zealand flax [JU 01/11/2013]
Place details: OCEANIA POLYNESIA. New Zealand / Cultural Group: Maori: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Flax (NZ) Plant / ?. Processes: Finger Woven / Twined Woven / ?. Colour: Brown Dimensions: L [approx] = 980 mm Max W = 1050 mm Field Collector: Johann Reinhold Forster and/or George Forster When Collected: 1773 or 1774 (between 26 March and 11 May 1773, or between 18 May and 7 June 1773, or between 3 November and 25 December 1773; or between 16 October and 10 November 1774) Other Owners: Johann Reinhold Forster and George Forster; from late January 1776, Ashmolean Museum PRM Source: Ashmolean Museum Acquired: Transferred 19 April 1886 Other Numbers: Forster 107
KEYWORD: Cloak / CLASS: Clothing / Textile / ?.
Object description: The cloak is constructed with whatu (weft twining) technique. Thick warp threads of relatively unprocessed harakeke fibre have been twined together by single-pair weft-twining with a 30-35 mm space between the aho (wefts). At the top (neck) edge of the cape (the base in manufacture) the whenu (warps) have been turned and incorporated into the thatch. At the bottom of the cloak (the top in manufacture) there is a thrum commencement, leaving a fringe of fibres approximately 15 cm long before the first aho row (weft). There are 25 aho warp rows in total, with no shaping. The thatching is formed on the outside of the cloak by bundles of New Zealand flax (possibly with some kie kie, Freycinetia arboria) incorporated into the whatu weft. The bundles are attached in a chequered pattern for an even distribution of thatch with a distance between them of between 8 and 14 warp thread bundles. The bundles are formed by between 4 and 7 groups of leaves and fibres, which have been folded over and held by the whatu at the fold, creating two equal lengths of thatch fibres per group. From the neck down, 10 of the wefts have bundles attached with one clear weft between them, apart from bundle rows 7-8 and 9-10, which are attached on consecutive wefts. The top layer of thatching (i.e. at the top as the cloak is worn) is the longest at between 640 and 450 mm, decreasing to between 320 to 250 mm on the final layer of fibre bundles. The length of the cape measures between 940 and 980 mm from the top of the braid to the end of the thatching, and the width measures between 950 and 1050 mm from each red brown whenu tapiri (finished edge plait). The red-brown colour of the whenu tapiri may be derived from the bark of the tanekaha (celery pine). Along the neck edge some of the bundles are tied creating loops underlying the top-most thatch layer. At each end of the neck line two thin cords of plied muka are present; they don’t seem strong enough to be ties, or close enough to the edge of the cape. [Kloe Rumsey 2012; JU 01/11/2013]
Publications history, trails & websites: Listed as No. 55 in 'Appendix: Description of Individual Garments' on pages 96/99 of The Maori Mantle, by H. Ling Roth (Halifax: Bankfield Museum, 1923), where it is described as follows: 'No. 55. Fig. 79. A coarse Rain Cloak. No. 107. Capt. Cook Collection, Pitt-Rivers Museum. The thatch is very grass-like and does not split up like the phormium of the body of the garment, and is rough to the touch. It is put on in batches of four to eight fringes or tags at intervals, in alternate positions on the twined rows numbered 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 20, 22 and 23, therefore practically on more than half. There is no worsted decoration.' See also detailed sketch published as figure 79 on page 98 and detailed dimensions in table on page 122. [JC 12 3 1999]
Listed according to the 'Forster list' numbering system in 'From the Islands of the South Seas 1773-4: An Exhibition of a Collection Made on Capn. Cook's Second Voyage of Discovery by J. R. Forster—A Short Guide (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, no date ): '107. A Shaggy great Coat. Missing.' [unsigned [but NMM], undated; JC 28 8 2015]
Listed as number 19 under ‘New Zealand...Cloaks’ on page 171 of 'Artificial Curiosities': Being an Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook, R.N. at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, January 18, 1978 - August 31, 1978 on the Occasion of the Bicentennial of the European Discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain Cook - January 18, 1778 (Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication 65), by Adrienne L. Kaeppler (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1978): '14-19. Six cloaks, Oxford (102-107). Evidence: Forster collection. Second voyage. Literature: Gathercole, n.d. (1970) [see above]'. [JC 29 5 2000]
Published as part of the Forster Collection on a dedicated website at www.prm.ox.ac.uk/forster (from February 2001). [JC 7 7 2005]
For an account of the history of the collection of which this is part, see 'The Cook-Voyage Collections at Oxford, 1772–1775', by Jeremy Coote, in Jeremy Coote (ed.), Cook-Voyage Collections of 'Artificial Curiosities' in Britain and Ireland, 1771–2015 (MEG Occasional Paper No. 5), Oxford: Museum Ethnographers Group (2015), pp. 74–122. (Copy in RDF: Researchers: Jeremy Coote (Cook-Voyage Collections).) [JC 9 6 2016]
Research notes: Additional note by Peter Gathercole (28/9/70) - Flax mat (skirt?) cloak? from N.Z. Forster 107. Very rare! Very fine. (Needs cleaning and even strengthening?) Labels still on it. P.G. [NM 24/3/97]
During a research visit by Ruth Port and Mandy Sunlight from New Zealand, both teachers of Maori weaving and plaiting on 26 and 27 July 2010 they said different types of flax are sought out for specific purposes. The outer part of the flax leaf is still attached - the puta acts as waterproofing and protection from the rain. Possibly a war cloak, but more likely worn everyday by everyone. The cloak is whatu aho patahi = single pair twined. [MJD DDF Body Arts Project 2010/2011 06/08/2010]
Samples of the plant material from the cloak were given to Caroline Cartwright of the Conservation and Scientific Research Department at the British Museum for identification [JU 13/12/2012] All of the samples were identified as New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax). See RDF for her report [JU 13/12/2013].
Surface swabs from the cloak were sent to Andrew Charlton at FERA for identification of pesticide residues [JU 11/04/2013] See RDF for his report [JU 01/11/2013]
The surface of the cloak was analysed by Dr Kelly Domoney of Cranfield Forensics Institute using an Oxford Instruments X-MET5100 handheld XRF. [JU 09/08/2013]
In 1978, David Simmons recorded the holdings of Māori material in a number of museums in Europe and North America including, in May 1978, the Pitt Rivers Museum. (For copies of his notes and related correspondence, see RDF: Researchers: Simmons.) In 1996, Simmons put together the ‘draft catalogues’ he had prepared, depositing copies in, at least, the National Library of New Zealand / Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa and the British Museum. The ‘draft catalogue’ of the Māori material in the PRM, which includes photocopies of some of the relevant catalogue index cards and annotations supplied by PRM assistant curator Lynne Williamson in 1982, was included in ‘Draft Catalogues of Maori Material in English Museums II. Prepared by David Simmons from records made in 1978… Compiled in Auckland in 1996’. It is now widely accepted that Simmons’s assertions about the provenance and history of individual Māori objects are not to be trusted without further evidence and/or documentation. Nevertheless, as the entries in this document have been referred in the literature, in July 2016 I obtained from the British Museum scans of the pages devoted to the PRM’s collections (numbered by hand as pages 43 to 62), printing out a copy for the RDF. For the entry for this object, see page 44. [JC 28 7 2016]