Thank you, Pacific Tapa project team, for twitting.
Thank you, Nicholas Thomas, for helping demonstrate.
With Patricia Wallace we recently presented our investigation of a very special Maori dog skin cloak held in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology collection.
We question the definition of the puahi, which is described as a white hairless dogskin cloak with a fringe at the hemline (Mead 1969).
We argue that the edge of the cloak decorated with the fringe was originally worn at the neck and not at the hemline as it had been interpreted and presented by scholars up to this point.
Luba Dovhun Nurse and Patricia Wallace
A Cambridge Conundrum: new questions need new answers
In his 1969 work on traditional Maori clothing, S. M. Mead’s classification of dogskin cloaks included a category D5, identified as Puuahi (aka Puahi). The defining features of this class were that they were covered with white hairless strips of skin, and had a fringe of dogskin strips along the bottom edge. Very few appear to remain, of which the example D24.80 held in the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology collection is one.
But much has changed since the work of W. Shawcross at Cambridge circa 1970. Development of new technology, recognition of a growing body of textile specialists and opportunities for indigenous peoples to work alongside museum professionals are all factors contributing to such change.
Accordingly, the use of modern technology throws new light on previously unobserved details of this dogskin cloak. Recent research has revealed a number of anomalies that begin to challenge previous understanding and raise a series of new questions. Finding all the answers will require ongoing commitment – of people, time and money; but any answers will add to existing knowledge and increase our understanding of this Maori taonga.