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Maori piupiu (grass skirt) & tipare (headband)



Children’s traditional Maori costume consisting of a piupiu (flax skirt) and tipare (headband)

Cultural notes

Traditional costume is worn by members of concert groups (also known as kapa haka groups, cultural entertainers or theatre groups) at many different events around New Zealand.

Piupiu (Flax skirt)

Traditional Maori clothing was made mostly from vegetation, animal skins, and natural fibres. Feathers, wood, and stone also played a very important role in the way that Maori of different ranks adorned themselves for various social occasions.

Long, thin strips of inner bark were used in some regions to make flexible skirts or capes – such as the piupiu. Leaves that were similar to tropical palms were most frequently used.

Tipare (Headband)

Tipare are traditional headbands, woven in the taniko design. Tipare are worn by Kapa Haka groups as part of their performing costume.

Taniko design

Tāniko is a uniquely Māori variation of whatu (twining) and is used to weave the colourful, intricate borders of cloaks.

Māori weavers developed tāniko by introducing coloured horizontal threads to the whatu twining technique. They worked out that they could combine full and half twists to bring one or another colour to the front. In this way, they could create intricate geometric patterns.

In cloak-making, tāniko is used only for borders since the weave is too stiff to suit entire garments. Tāniko is also used to make pari (bodices), tīpare (headbands), tāpeka (sashes), tātua (belts), and taonga whakapaipai (jewellery).

Taniko designs that are indigenous to, or have special significance for,  whanau hapu and/or iwi, (extended family, sub-tribe and/or tribe) can often be seen on costumes worn during a cultural presentation or festival.

Kapa Haka

Kapa haka is the term for Māori performing arts and literally means to form a line (kapa) and dance (haka). It involves an emotional and powerful combination of song, dance and chanting. Kapa haka is performed by cultural groups on marae, at schools, and during special events and festivals. While you’re in New Zealand, take the opportunity to experience the excitement of kapa haka for yourself.

During a kapa haka performance you’ll experience a range of compositions, from chants and choral singing to graceful action songs and ferocious war dances. Many performances include skilled demonstrations of traditional weaponry.

  • Waiata-ā-ringaIn a waiata-ā-ringa or action songs, the lyrics are supported by symbolic hand movements. The performers flutter their hands quickly, a movement called wiri, which can symbolise shimmering waters, heat waves or even a breeze moving the leaves of a tree. Waiata-ā-ringa are usually accompanied by a guitar and can be slow, fast, serious, or fun and flirtatious, depending on the context.
  • Poi: Poi is a form of dance in which each performer skilfully twirls one or more poi (ball on a chord) in perfect unison with the others. Sudden direction changes are achieved by striking the ball on a hand or other part of the body, and the noise creates a percussive rhythm. Poi dancers are usually women and a skilled performance will strongly convey a sense of grace, beauty and charm.
  • Haka: Haka are war dances with loud chanting, strong hand movements, foot stamping and thigh slapping. Performers may incorporate traditional weapons, such as taiaha (spear-like weapons) and patu (clubs) into their haka. The All Blacks rugby team famously performs their haka before every game, and it is likely you will see this very same haka if you attend a cultural performance.

  • Pūkana: Pūkana or facial expressions are an important facet of Māori performance. They help emphasise a point in a song or haka, and demonstrate the performer’s ferocity or passion. For women, pūkana involves opening the eyes wide and jutting out their tattood chin. For men, it means widening the eyes and stretching out their tongue or bearing their teeth. Though these expressions may be intimidating, they are not necessarily a sign of aggression, but may simply show strong and deep-felt emotions.

Suggested activities

Books and Storytime:

  • Learn more about Maori culture by reading The Girls in the KapahakaThis story is about the kapahaka group: the boys and girls who take part, and the way that the whole whanau is involved in the preparation and performance of the kapahaka. Children will absorb a lot of information about Maori culture and language from this fun and attractive story. For further information, a glossary of Maori words is included at the back of the book. The rhythm of the text is based on the traditional children’s tale The House that Jack Built . For example, These are the piu piu, that swished and swirled, that swung on the hips of the group of girls, who sang in the kapahaka.

Music and Movement

  • Discuss the traditional ‘Haka’ – have any of the children seen this dance performed? Share a video of children participating in the Haka (As this dance is designed to scare, adult dances may be confronting for young children. This video of 9 year old Jacob participating in the Haka has Jacob sharing his culture before participating in the performance with other children). This video of the All Blacks performing the Haka is also age appropriate.

Art and Craft

Language and Counting: 

Community Engagement

  • Invite a local Maori performer to visit your centre and share the performances of the kapa haka with the children.

External Links

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The research for this resource was made possible through a grant from the Central Coast Council.