Te Papa Pā Harakeke 

Te Papa Pā Harakeke 

Not many Wellingtonians realise that an extraordinary pā harakeke hides behind us while we shop at the Sunday waterfront market. Summer Gold Award winner and student Zoë Glentworth explains to myView how the Te Papa Tongarewa Pā Harekeke project is bringing this hidden gem into the light.

Master’s student Zoë Glentworth, winner of best entry in the Architecture and Design group of the Summer Gold Awards.

Tēnā tatou! Ko Zoë tōku ingoa. He tangata tiriti au. He tauira hoahoa hoki. I tēnei raumati i whakapai pā harakeke mātou ko Carles Martinez Almoyna Gual  (Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington), ko te rōpū kaitiaki kei Ōtari, me tētahi rōpū nō Te Papa Tongarewa i te mahi Te Papa Pā Harakeke.

Kia ora, I’m Zoë and I’m a Master’s student at the Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design (WFADI).

Through the Summer Research Scholarship Programme, I recently contributed to the restoration of the Te Papa pā harakeke on the Wellington waterfront. A pā harakeke is a planting of selected varieties of harakeke, chosen for their muka (fibre) or raranga (weaving) qualities. Currently, the garden is unmaintained and unknown to the public, but it has potential to provide space for raranga rōpū (weaving groups), community participation, the education of school groups, and the cultivation and propagation of harakeke for future pā harakeke. These harakeke have invaluable cultural significance, cultivated by generations of Māori weavers. Te Papa’s pā harakeke is spread over two areas, on a rectangular plot on the eastern side of the marae access ramp.

How I became involved in the project

Landscape Architecture lecturer Carles Martinez Almoyna Gual approached Isaac Te Awa, curator of Mātauranga Māori content at Te Papa about reviving the pā harakeke. It was identified as a phenomenal resource, particularly in its potential to contribute to the revival of harakeke. Ōtari Wilton’s Bush was also involved as a partner. The project brief, formed by Carles, included a Summer Research Scholarship candidate, which was me. 

During raumati (summer) we spatially surveyed the garden and identified existing harakeke, removed coastal plants, and completed a literature review covering the history of harakeke and proposed designs. The aim was to improve accessibility, visibility, and engagement through seating, signage, and visual resources for Te Papa’s website.

Zoë’s award winning work on Te Papa Pā Harakeke.

What drew me to harakeke and pā harakeke

From the beginning, I was drawn to this project to learn about harakeke. Harakeke is a magical plant, most commonly known for the diverse range of uses in rongoā (Māori medicine/healthcare) and raranga (weaving). It is less commonly known for being instrumental in the transaction of muskets. As muskets were introduced, iwi conflicts escalated alongside resistance to colonisation. As harakeke became indispensable to the musket economy, iwi focused efforts on the cultivation of harakeke, moving from their whenua to swamp land to gain advantages in combat. Ngāpuhi rangatira Hongi Hika was first to exchange harakeke for a great musket arsenal. European colonials were attracted to the versatility of harakeke and established an industry using flax-mills to ship cordage, wool-bales, carpeting, and coarse textiles to Australia and Britain. Yellow-leaf disease in Foxton fizzled out the trade and the harakeke industry was unable to sustain itself—the last of the flax-mills closed in 1985.

Some detailed examples from Zoë’s project, including the traditional uses of harakeke.

Harakeke in the 21st century

Recently, exciting scientific discoveries have been made with regards to the contribution harakeke can make to mainstream products and services. Harakeke is used for:

  • ecological restoration and riparian planting (to counter pollutant farm runoff)
  • sustainable textile design, for kākahu (clothing)
  • sustainable forms of packaging and plastics
  • and building materials, including reinforcing soil cement with strong muka (fibre)

The unique role of harakeke in Aotearoa’s history is fascinating and its potential contribution to sustainable solutions is exciting! Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you have a newfound appreciation for this wonderful plant.

Tirohia tēnei wahi! 

Watch this space!

Zoë Glentworth is a fourth-year Master of Architecture (Professional) student at the Wellington Faculty of Architecture and Design. She won best entry in the Architecture and Design group of the Summer Gold Awards.

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