With the Harakeke thrusting forth their new flowers, it is fitting to do a brief post about this missed-named plant.
Actually a lily, (of the Phormium family), this plant is one of New Zealand’s oldest species. Named Harakeke by the Maori, it was called ‘flax’ by the early European explorers because the plant has fibers very similar to ‘true’ flax plants of the world.
Harakeke was used extensively by Maori for weaving (raranga) such things as mats, baskets (kete), fishing nets (kupenga), bird traps and clothing, to name but a few. It is no wonder that this plant is a taonga (treasure) and traditionally strict protocols (tikanga) were followed when harvesting the leaves.
Before harvesting, a special prayer (karakia) is recited to give thanks to the Harakeke, the surrounding area, and life (Mauri) in general. Picking is only carried out on fine days, and during the hours of daylight. Picking (or rather cutting), is a clean-cut at an angle close to the base of the plant. (See picture). The plants are also likened to whanau (family) and only the outer, older ones – the ancestors (tupuna) are picked. The next leaves – the parents (matua) and the most inner leaves – the baby (pepe) remain. (See picture).
When it comes to weaving and making an item, again strict protocols are observed. Menstruating or pregnant women are not allowed to cut or weave the Harakeke, children were not to touch or step over the leaves, nor is any food placed around the working area. Sacred songs (waiata) and proverbs (whakatauki) are recited while working.
For a novice weaver, the first completed article is always given away.
Harakeke was also used as a medicine. Its sticky gum and root juice was used on sores and wounds. The nectar from the flowers was used as a sweetener.
Harakeke is a wonderful plant to help against soil erosion. The plants love the wild conditions of the New Zealand coastline and the nectar and pollen from the flowers is a great source of food for many native birds. Harakeke produce heaps of seeds which are dispersed when the seed pods dry and crack open. These sprout very easily where ever they fall.
I have only given a brief overview on this plant, but there is a lot of information available.
Harakeke is often used to create decorations, and one of the first items a new weaver learns how to make is a simple flower (putiputi).
Here is a video where I demonstrate how to make one!