Recently I was very fortunate to attend the Artefacts of Encounter workshop and to hear Julie Adams’s presentation ‘Bellingshausen collection of Maori cloaks in St. Petersburg’. AoE team’s research in Russia has located some incredible artefacts, cloaks included, I hope they publish the results of this project soon.
This portrait ‘Chief of the southern New Zealand with his wife’ is by the artist Pavel Mikhailov (1786-1840), who accompanied the First Russian Antarctic Expedition of 1819-1821 of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen (Russian: Фаддей Фаддеевич Беллинсгаузен, Faddey Faddeyevich Bellinsgauzen).
On the original image the leaves of the woman’s headdress are of natural, buff colour, and looking similar to the leaves of the mountain daisy Celmisia, endemic to New Zealand and Australia.
In 2008 I researched a special Maori cloak from the Economic Botany Collection/Kew (collector Walter Mantell, accession date 1858), made from tomentum, the hairy underside layer of the leaf. I estimated there had to be 1500 leaves to weave (single and double paired twining technique) the kaupapa, the main fabric of the cloak. The water repellent ‘rain tags’ were attached at the same time as weaving the main fabric, this is a one piece construction garment.
In 2010 investigations of the techniques and confirmation of the species, capable of producing tomentum that is strong enough for garment production, was published by the team of researches led by Janice Lord/University of Otago. Great chance, Debra Carr, material scientist and one of the coauthors of this paper was at the workshop, and I could pick up her knowledge of the NZ fibres.
The similarity of Celmisia sp. with leather, documented by Parkinson (1773: 115), is reflected in its common name, ‘leather plant’ (Andersen 1926). The tomentum though feels more like a suede, and the cloak in the EBC/Kew collection still feels very soft to the touch. This property is explained by the microscopy of the tomentum fibres that shows cotton like structure and by the chemical composition being primarily cellulose, confirmed by FTIR. Dovgan Nurse Eastop Nesbitt poster_Maori cloak September 2009
Riley states that C. coriacea and C. spectabilis were used to flavour or substitute tobacco by European settlers in the 19th century, and that C. spectabilis was cultivated for its scent (Riley 1994: 458).
The preserved cloak at Kew is a great resource for visualising how other garments and accessories made from tikumu might have looked and felt, since they haven’t been found in museum collections or not yet.
Acknowledgement: I thank Patricia Te Arapo Wallace, Maori Textile Historian, for sharing her knowledge of Celmisia artefacts in museum collections.
Ф. Ф. Беллинсгаузен. Двукратные изыскания в Южном Ледовитом океане и плавание вокруг света в продолжение 1819, 20 и 21 годов, Государственное издательство географической литературы. Москва 1949 г. (Double Investigation of the Southern Polar Ocean and the Voyage Around the World).
Andersen, Johannes C. 1926. Popular names of New Zealand plants. Transactions of the Royal Society of New Zealand 56: 659-714.
Janice M. Lord, Rua E. McCalum, Catherine A. Smith, Debra J. Carr 2010, Use and Identification of Tikumu (Celmisia Species, Asteraceae) in Artifacts of New Zealand Origin. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Volume 49, Number 2, Fall/Winter 2010 , pp. 69-82(14).
Parkinson, S. 1773. A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty’s Ship, The Endeavour. London: Stanfield Parkinson.
Riley, M. 1994. Maori Healing and Herbal New Zealand Ethnobotanical Sourcebook. Paraparaumu: Viking Sevenseas N.Z. Ltd.