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  • Lillian Hetet Owen

The Hetet School of Māori Art; a pathway home for Māori students with a fascinating history.

Written by Lillian Hetet Owen


Dara Barton weaving a kete | © Soraya McConachy

When she lost her mum to cancer 5 years ago, it didn’t take long for Hera to realise just how many questions she had for her mother now that she was no longer there.


Aside from questions like, 'What was menopause like for you Mum?' and 'Where did you put the key to the cabinet?', there was a growing list of other questions she’d always meant to ask but never got around to - and now there was no-one to answer them.


'Where was Koro born and what were his Marae again?'


'And did he speak Māori and why didn’t he teach you?'


'Which cousins belonged to which uncle and aunty and were there any korowai in the whānau?'


She kicked herself for not spending more time with her nanny and mum when they wove kete but, 30 years ago, she was just a kid and like most kids she was busy playing and growing up.


For the past few years she’s had a worry growing inside her puku that if she doesn’t do something about the ‘not knowing’ then her own children won’t stand a chance to ever know their whakapapa.



There was a growing list of other questions she’d always meant to ask but never got around to - and now there was no-one to answer them.



Sharon grew up as a much loved child in a family who never made her feel adopted. She always knew that there were missing pieces and that one of the biggest pieces was ‘Māori‘ but her Pākehā family (no matter how loving they were) simply could not fill in the gaps of that part of herself she longed to know more about.


There was a thread of something that Sharon had thought she heard once about her Mum’s iwi. Sharon thought it may have been Kai Tahu but she wasn’t sure. Having to give her pepeha in work training sessions was so painful she wish she could throw a sickie and avoid the whole thing. That mixture of embarrassment and shame left her flushed and feeling anxious each time she found herself in that situation.


Which is why both Hera and Sharon joined a reo class. Not the same one but they each joined for the same reason; it was a doorway to a heritage they knew they had a right to and learning the language was the only door that seemed open to them at the time.


While walking into the virtual room on the first night wasn’t easy, at least they were able to join from the comfort of their own respective homes. From the outset, they knew it was going to be a long journey but they were up for the challenge.



Having to give her pepeha in work training sessions was so painful she wish she could throw a sickie and avoid the whole thing.



It was around the same time, a few months later, that Hera and Sharon also joined an online class at The Hetet School of Maori Art. The course, titled ‘Raranga Basics’, was an easy introduction into the world of Māori weaving and within the first few lessons they were learning how to gather harakeke and weave a kono.


It was hard to believe that in less than a day they were drawn in, so comfortably, to Te Ao Māori. They felt both excited and at ease as they moved through each lesson. Within months they were weaving kete whiri that looked just like the ones they’d seen in books and museums.


It was a doorway they were both grateful to have found and it took them places that they never imagined they would end up. More importantly, it brought them to the taproot of their heritage and who they are as Māori women.


The stories of Hera and Sharon are a composite of stories based on many of the real-lives of many students who are learning traditional Māori weaving online at The Hetet School of Maori Art (HSOMA).


In an interview on the HSOMA website, Penney Cameron shares how her journey with the HSOMA led her from feeling bereft of a connection to whānau Māori to a place of peace, many wonderful friendships, and a sense of belonging among the roopu of weavers learning with the school.



It was hard to believe that in less than a day they were drawn in, so comfortably, to Te Ao Māori.



Like Sharon, Penney went from learning te reo to learning raranga, taaniko and whatu kākahu. The learning has gently rippled into other parts of her life: from weaving kete for loved ones to growing a pā harakeke in one of the paddocks of their rural property.


When she and husband, Rob moved from the property, Penney worked with the local council to develop a harakeke resource that is now made available to weavers in the Waikato.



A history


The Hetet School of Maori Art (HSOMA) has a long tradition of teaching Māori people who were not able to learn to weave with their mums, nannies or aunties. In the 1970s, my parents Erenora Puketapu-Hetet and Rangi Hetet who were teaching at the Institute of Māori Arts and Crafts moved our family back home to Mum’s papakāinga at Waiwhetū in Lower Hutt.

There they started the first marae based training programme in partnership with the Department of Māori Affairs. It was specifically for long-term unemployed Maori youth, most of whom had grown up away from their marae and were disconnected from their taha Māori. My parents taught them the traditional arts of whakairo, raranga, taaniko and whatu kākahu.



© Norm Heke October 2005







The first group of students back then helped decorate the Wainuiomata Marae with Mum and Dad. For the next, almost four decades, my parents taught on marae, at Wānanga, and Polytechnics.


They started the first museum training for Māori interns at the old National Museum in Buckle Street, Wellington. Many of those first interns went on to key positions in what is now the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.


Mum and Dad also developed the first Degree in Māori Art for Te Wānanga o Raukawa and the first ever correspondence course in carving and weaving for the Open Polytechnic of NZ (TOPNZ).


When my parents retired, the baton of teaching was passed to my sister Veranoa and her husband Sam, who both learnt and taught with our parents and continued teaching at TOPNZ until 2012.



Lillian at Legacy: The Art of Rangi and Erenora Puketapu Hetet Exhibition, Dowse Art Museum 2016 | © Mark Tantrum


In 2014, we made the decision to bring our teaching online. It meant that we weren’t dictated to by government funding and could therefore teach the practical skills without having to require our students to write essays about weaving. It was an expression of Tino Rangatiratanga for us and our students. It has been very liberating.



An innovative approach


At HSOMA, students follow ‘The Matrix™’ which is a special series of lessons taught in a very special way.

Developed by our mother and Veranoa, The Matrix™ equips weavers from beginner up with all they need to become what we call at HSOMA, a ‘Legacy Weaver’; someone able to weave everything from kete through to all types of kākahu and pass those skills on to their mokopuna.


Manaia Carswell weaving a korowai at the Hetet School of Māori Art Weaving Retreat February 2020 | © Soraya McConachy
Our kaupapa is to enable whānau Māori to not just have a kākahu but to have a Legacy Weaver in their family.

Many of the people who join our courses and programmes are working full-time and have busy lives so the online aspect of the learning fits well. It’s a joy for us to see so many wāhine and tāne Māori taking up weaving and reclaiming the skills and knowledge for themselves and their whānau.


It’s not just novice weavers who have joined HSOMA. We’ve had many weavers who learned at wananga join HSOMA to extend and finesse the skills and techniques they learned as part of their diploma or degree.





"Our kaupapa is to enable whānau Māori to not just have a kākahu but to have a Legacy Weaver in their family."


Weaver, Kiriana O’Connell joined HSOMA to learn to weave kākahu in our 'Weave Korowai Programme' and sums up her journey with words that would express the way many of the students at HSOMA feel:

'This has been an incredible journey full of joy, surprises, support and blisters. I have learnt so much every step of the way but I’d have to say I didn’t expect to feel so close to ōku tūpuna as I went through the process of korowai. Using my hands (knees/legs/arms) to recreate the same methods and processes of those who have gone before me was profound - I really felt my place in the continuum of time and raranga, whatu and tāniko will continue to express itself (te ira raranga) long after I’m gone. A profoundly beautiful experience.'


If you’re interested in learning to weave with the Hetet School of Māori Art, then the best place to start is with the 'Māori Basketry Course' then progress to 'Taaniko' and then on to the 'Weave Korowai Programme'. That pathway gives a person the best, most well-rounded course of learning and will help them to connect deeply with Te Ao Māori in a way that is comfortable from the comfort of their own home.






The Hetet School of Māori Art; a pathway home for Māori students with a fascinating history. Author Lillian Hetet Owen



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