Cook Islands tīvaevae (quilts) are cultural treasures, painstakingly hand-sewn and often stored for safekeeping in family glory boxes. This exhibition at Te Papa Museum shows these treasures in all their glory. Many of these quilts were presented as gifts to family members and reflects the vibrant cultural life of the Cook Islands. The light and airy exhibition space showed them off perfectly, some displayed on the walls, while others hung from rods down the middle of the room.
Some Cook Islands women in New Zealand prefer to work alone, while others form vainetini (working groups) who sing, share stories, and catch up on news while they sew together. This quilt was a joint effort by the ladies of the Porirua Cook Islands Community Group, and was completed in 1989.
Embroidery stitches are also sometimes used on appliqué quilts. The maker is unknown, but embroidery stitches have been used to add detail and texture to the design.
It is unusual to see merio (mermaids) on tivaevae as many Cook Island women believe they bring bad luck. This blue and white quilt was designed, cut, and partly sewn by a tifaifa (quilt maker) in Tahiti, then finished by her Cook Islands relatives in New Zealand.
I did not realise that tivaevae quilts were also made from patchwork pieces, and as I read, are the most highly prized of all the Cook Islands quilts. Mothers often present them as gifts of love to their daughters on their wedding day – with the understanding that the quilt will one day be used as a funeral shroud for the daughter’s husband. This colourful version was stitched by a Wellingtonian Cook Islands mother for her daughter’s wedding.
The tinier the pieces, the more skill and time it takes to stitch together a tivaevae ta’orei (patchwork quilt). This one was a wedding quilt and took (only) 3 months to stitch in the 1960s.
Stitched by a group of “Mamas” in 1990, this quilt tells the story of Ina and the shark. Headstrong Ina fled her island home in search of Tinirau, the ocean god, whom she loved. She took some coconuts along for sustenance, which she cracked on the shark’s head. The shark flung her off into the sea, and this is how the hammerhead shark got it’s oddly shaped head, so the story goes.
This is just a taste of the exhibition, and I loved the variety, the different colours and styles on display. If you are in Wellington or passing through, do pop in to Te Papa Museum and have a look. “Out of the Glory Box” exhibition will be on show on Level 5 until October 2015 - free entry.