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The Rapaki – a hybrid couture

by on June 20th, 2014 in People | No comment

Long before we armed ourselves with phones featuring front-facing cameras and Instagram, the average New Zealander had to work much harder to produce a ‘selfie’. In 1860, Aotearoa’s unmatched king of the self portrait was one Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky. Without the aid of hashtags, Von cultivated his celebrity status via the favoured social media of the day – ‘carte-de-visits’. These were a sort of personal calling card featuring posed portraits, which became a collectable craze in the colony. Demand for images of the flamboyant Von outstripped photographers supply – and his carte-de-visits [Fig. 1] became highly sought after. Within these proto-Polaroids lies an illuminating story of Pākehā and Māori hybrid battle couture – the rāpaki.

"Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky - Carte-de-visite. Circa 1868." http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22308963

Fig. 1 “Gustavus Ferdinand von Tempsky – Carte-de-visite. Circa 1868.”
http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22308963

Gold-rush lured the Prussian born von Tempsky to these isles following adventures in Berlin, the Caribbean, California, Mexico, Guatemala, Salvador, Glasgow, Liverpool, Victoria and Melbourne. As war broke out across New Zealand the young von Tempsky traded the goldfields of the Coromandel for the battlefields of Taranaki. Despite one-fifth of the burgeoning colony’s population consisting of British soldiers, Māori allied to the Kīngitanga movement were proving a resilient, elusive foe to the Imperial Army. In response the Forest Rangers were formed to match Māori at their own guerilla game; it was within this elite irregular force that Von would make his name. The Forest Rangers were about as badass as their name suggests – today the SAS can trace their lineage to this group, and in the 1860s they became the heroes of the frontier. Abandoning redoubt building and marching for covert missions into the depths of enemy territory, they were rewarded with double rum rations, higher pay, and as Von’s carte-de-visits testify – fame.

Though his selfie output was decidedly less prolific than today’s teen, Von is captured in several carte-de-visits exhibiting his flair for fashion with Garibaldi shirts and out of the ordinary weaponry. His wife Amelia wrote to let him know “you are fast becoming the laughing stock of everyone with eccentricities of costume” (Von Tempsky’s Ghost, MP4). Other carte-de-visits and paintings capture him in full military costume, but none capture him in what he and his Forest Rangers became famed for fighting in – the rāpaki. Perhaps it was a vague wish to uphold some of the Victorian value placed on formality; whatever the reasons, Von’s calling cards did capture his outlandish appearance, but it was eyewitness recollections of his rāpaki battledress which cemented his reputation as an adaptive antipodean warrior.

Rāpaki is the noun which describes a Māori garment of woven harakeke worn from the waist to the knee. They were constructed from a woven base (kaupapa) which tags (hukahuka) were attached to [Fig. 2]. Māori had worn it for centuries, but the Forest Rangers were perhaps the first Pākehā to realise it was truly a garment honed for Aotearoa – and shed their trousers for what is effectively a skirt. An accurate point of adoption is untraceable, though eleven kūpapa (pro-government) Māori are recorded as serving in the Forest Rangers and could have instigated the move. Initially the Forest Rangers were issued with standard army uniforms, but in the wet bush they found their trousers quickly rotted and tore. So they improvised their own uniforms by wearing the rāpaki, subsequently enhancing their public image as that of a rough and ready band of adventurers.

"Traditional woven rāpaki from circa 1850. The archetypal rāpaki from which further types would evolve" http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/66505

Fig. 2 “Traditional woven rāpaki from circa 1850. The archetypal rāpaki from which further types would evolve”
http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Object/66505

Von Tempsky’s men succeeded where the British Army could not by adapting Māori methods of dress and warfare. Forest Ranger J.M. Roberts explained: “This [the tactics of the British commanders] was not the way of the colonial soldier who knew his business. We learned very early to look on a tree as a friend. If it could shelter a Māori it could also shelter us” (Cowan 25). British commanders dreaded the New Zealand bush, it was a terrain unfamiliar to them. Historian Danny Keenan explains: “The bush was just this great big primordial thing they were afraid of. It was so thick, so terrible” (Von Tempsky’s Ghost, MP4). They preferred to square up to their enemy on open ground where they were more comfortable in conflict. However for much of the New Zealand Wars the British were forced to toil over unmapped land in search of a flitting enemy, through unroaded swamps, bush, ranges, and unbridged rivers. Each man adorned with conspicuous red jackets, wrapped with radiant sashes and capped with shining regiment badge. Their army was slow to adapt and the British soldier stood out from the bush like a lighthouse in the dead of night.

The adoption of the rāpaki is a significant moment within the New Zealand Wars as it highlights a Pākehā concession to a Māori concept. Whilst the British were quick to recognize Māori chivalry and courage, they did not afford them recognition for military intelligence or technology. Within the New Zealand Wars the rāpaki can certainly be framed as technology: the science of the application of knowledge to practical purposes. Just as the pā was constructed in rapport with the land, so Māori had conceived the rāpaki to be in harmony with the bush environment. The lightweight garment allowed the wearer to move quickly through the bush with an ease of movement incomparable to trousers; perhaps why Māori named Von Tempsky ‘Manurau’ (one hundred birds) for his ability to move through the bush like a flock of birds, seemingly being in many places at once.

The rāpaki shed water naturally but dried easily over a fire when saturated. Army issue trousers rotted, ripped and were difficult to repair by comparison. Importantly rāpaki allowed rapid crossing of rivers, streams and movement through swamp [Fig. 3]. Whereas trousers had to be rolled up, removed or worn heavy and soaking until dried. As weaving skills waned Māori and Pākehā replaced harakeke for woven wool in the form of blankets. Wrapped around the waist the tartan pattern of most contributed to their similarity in appearance to the Scottish kilt, both variants can be seen in later images of the Armed Constabulary. The transfer of a Māori form re-imagined with a Pākehā material – constitutes perhaps one of the first hybrid forms used by both cultures.

"Armed Constabulary on the warpath with both harakeke & blanket rāpaki. 1868." http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23218703

Fig. 3 “Armed Constabulary on the warpath with both harakeke & blanket rāpaki. 1868.”
http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23218703

For most of New Zealand’s history the two primary cultures, Māori and Pākehā, have been separated in many ways. Conflict and confrontation has been more common than collaboration and reverence. Our relationship with the past has been an uneasy one, and the New Zealand Wars are remembered with less clarity and certainly less commemoration than wars fought elsewhere. Von and his Forest Rangers adaptation of the rāpaki, and its subsequent evolution of form is trivial within the wider context of the Wars. But it is one of many refutations to the belief that transfer of ideas and knowledge was a one way street – from Pākehā to Māori. Long held paradigms of materials, craft and conventions is upturned by an intimate understanding developed over decades, and acquired and tested within immediate environments.

The rāpaki is a salient sign of the true blurred nature of the New Zealand Wars. Neither side truly won or lost, and the sides themselves were often a tangle of Pākehā, Māori, Pākehā-Māori and kūpapa Māori [Fig 4]. At a singular time Māori and Pākehā alike utilised this bush fashion – woven from flax or wool, and paired with pounamu mere or Bowie knife. Conflict forced an eschewing of status quo for the best possible tools, forms and fashions taken and transformed from both cultures. Today, in a relative world of peace, this collaborative approach is surely a valuable weapon in forging a new New Zealand.

 

Fig. 4 "Tom Adamson (a Pākehā–Māori) and Wiremu Mutu (kūpapa Māori both wearing the r?paki. Circa 1865." http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/26792/tom-adamson-kupapa-pakeha-maori

Fig. 4 “Tom Adamson (a Pākehā–Māori) and Wiremu Mutu (kūpapa Māori both wearing the rāpaki. Circa 1865.”
http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/26792/tom-adamson-kupapa-pakeha-maori

 

Cowan, James. “Famous New Zealanders: No. 11: Colonel J. M. Roberts, N.Z.C: The Story of the Forest Rangers,” The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10. Feb. 1, 1934.

Von Tempsky’s Ghost. Dir., Writ. John Milligan. 2002. NZ On Screen, 2011. MP4 File.

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Gardening With Soul

by on June 10th, 2014 in Gardening and Violence, Home, People | No comment

Gardening With Soul is an award-winning New Zealand documentary from filmmaker Jess Feast, and it has just opened nationally in New Zealand and selected cinemas across Australia. I can’t wait to check it out, it looks like a beautiful story, made even more incredible for capturing the magical day it snowed in Wellington.

Gardening with Soul premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival in July 2013, 

Sister Loyola is one of the liveliest nonagenarians you could ever meet.

As the main gardener at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay, Wellington, her daily tasks include heavy lifting alongside vigorous spade and wheelbarrow work, which she sometimes performs on crutches. Loyola and the other Sisters of Compassion follow the vision of Mother Aubert to ‘meet the needs of the oppressed and powerless in their communities’. 

The lively, beautifully shot documentary (edited by Annie Collins. written & directed by Jess Feast) is filmed almost entirely in this small community on the southern coast of Wellington. With music by local musician David Long, and full of the sea- and garden-scapes that have informed Loyola’s life, Gardening with Soul uncovers a local legend and her community for the wider world. It is a conceptual triumph for Feast. Any belief we might harbour that becoming a nun is avoiding the real world is turned firmly on its head as we witness this extraordinary soul steer a sharp course through all weathers, trying to shine love on everything she sees. 

-Jo Randerson, International Film Festival

If you like to read up before seeing a film, I’d recommend this insightful Interview with filmmaker Jess Feast, otherwise find your local screening and get there!

Can’t wait to check it out, also if this gets you all tingly, you can download Freerange Vol.2: Gardening & Violence, which suddently feels a bit scandalous against this beautiful story.

Thanks to Gina for passing this on!

 

 

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Freerange Community Feedback.

by on May 27th, 2014 in Co-op, Freerange | No comment

Last month we collected feedback from the Freerange community via a short survey. After a busy year built on multiple publications and the formalisation of the Freerange Cooperative, we were eager to shape a plan that could build on the things that we’re good at; decide on some new things that we could get better at; and make sure we do all these while keeping firmly in touch with what and who, Freerange is all about.

To give some context, the motivation for the survey emerged late last year when we held our first face-to-face meeting between the whole team of Directors in Christchurch. Looking back, Freerange had published 300 blog articles over 4 years; our seventh Journal was about to be launched; and Christchurch: The Transitional City was doing incredibly well; as well as five other print publications for the Press, and a charity compilation album. As the community, organisation, and finances were growing -in complexity if not size- it became crucial that we understood more about the Freerange community so that we could give, share, and enable value for it.

There were only a few simple and fairly broad questions asked, and I’ve simply reproduced the responses here as they are, with some short comments about what we’ve understood from them. After getting some idea of participation in Freerange, we asked how our blog was going, what kind of stuff we could be publishing about, and what else we could do for the community. The sixth question in particular had some really encouraging responses that we’re pretty excited about.

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The Leasons

by on May 20th, 2014 in Gardening and Violence, People | No comment

Written by Ruth Hill with photographs by Dion Howard, this article originally appeared in Freerange Volume 2: Gardening & Violence in 2009, edited by Barnaby Bennett and Gina Moss.

 

A small organic holding in sunny Otaki, New Zealand, sprouting kids and pigs and walnut trees, seems a world away from the devastation of war-torn Iraq. But for Adrian and Shelley Leason, the two are intimately connected.

A hail of arrows, knives and tomahawks fly through the air as Adrian Leason strolls through the paddock pushing a wheelbarrow full of small children.

“Gardens are violent places,” he muses.

“Full of creatures eating other creatures, plants struggling for primacy, strangling other plants….”

He pauses by a small bonfire.

“I’m not happy about that fire, boys,” he remonstrates gently with his older sons, who are practising their marksmanship on distant targets with a variety of weapons.

“Piss on it, please.”

This peaceful rural idyll is home to Adrian and Shelley and their semi-feral tribe of beautiful children – Jack (13), Finn (11), Che (9), Mana (6), Ari (4), Samuel (2) and Davy (born in April). The Leasons have rejected many of trappings of modern life, including television, but the couple have ensured their family is attuned to world events in a way many of us manage to comfortably avoid.

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