By Polly Lind
She sits there plating, knotting and weaving, as she learned to do so many years ago when she went to live with her Grandmother. It was the tradition in her family.
She plucks a feather from the basket at her side and weaves it into the cloak she is making and she remembers. She remembers how homesick she was those first few weeks of living with her Nan and how she missed her mother. And how, many a night, with tears, she had fallen asleep in her Nana’s lap while Nana stroked her long dark hair, and whispered, shh bar bar shhh bar bar.
She plucks a feather from the basket and weaves it into the cloak she is making and she remembers. She remembers that time when Nana woke her early one dark morning just after Matariki, that first year. “It’s time’ Nan had told her and handed her some gumboots and a kit bag made out of flax. After a quick breakfast, Nan had taken her out and shown her how to cut the flax and bundle it together so that it could be brought back.
She plucks a feather from the basket and knots it into the cloak she is making and she remembers. She remembers on the walk back from cutting the fax Nan had shown her plants that healed, plants that you could eat and those that were poisonous to eat but could be used in other ways. And so it was that every time she and Nan went out to cut the flax, she would also learn about the flora and fauna, what was good to eat and what to use for healing.
She plucks a feather from the basket and glances across the room where her Nan is, cold up of tea by her side, but she must not stop weaving as she has a cloak to finish and there is not much time. She remembers, she remembers when Nan gave her the basket for collecting feathers, and how the basket had been in her family for a very long time, and that she was only to collect black feathers in this basket.
She plucks a feather from the basket and plaits it into the cloak she is making and she remembers. She remembers Nan’s two best friends, sisters really. Noelene and Mavis and how they used to visit each other, staying a night or two. They too had their granddaughters living with them as was the way of the weaver sisters.
She plucks a feather form the basket and weaves it into the cloak she is making and she remembers. She remembers how Mavis taught her to measure the flax so that it would be turned into fibre and used for weaving, plaiting and knotting. Mavis also taught her how to sew and how to brew beer.
She plucks a feather from the basket and knots it into the cloak she is making and she remembers. She remembers that it was Nolene who taught her to weave the flax. She started of with weaving a small square basket with a lid. Nolene had instructed her that this basket was to collect only white feathers.
She plucks a feather from the basket, this time a white feather from the smaller basket and glances out the window, to where the men are preparing the hungi, the earth oven and she remembers. She remembers the night Richard was born and how in the middle of the night Nolene had come and gotten Nan in a flurry of activity and worry. Nolene and Nana often helped to deliver babies.
She plucks a feather from the basket and weaves it into the cloak she is making and remembers. She remembers helping to bring Richard into the world, and how in the process his mother had died, which sometimes happens as Nan had explained later that evening as they were cleaning up and Nolene was instructing Richards father on how to take care of his newborn son.
She plucks another feather from the basket and weaves it into the cloak she is making and she remembers. She remembers the day Richard as a small boy came running into the house saying, nay, screaming at how he had killed his older brother. Hemi however was not dead, he had fallen out of the Pohutukawa tree and had passed out from the pain of his broken leg. She and Nan soon had Hemi patched up and off to hospital, and Richard calmed down enough so he could go and tell his father what had happened. She always did have a soft spot in her heart for Richard after that.
She plucks a feather from the basket and notices that there are only a few feathers left. She is almost finished. She remembers, she remembers her first born, a son, she had, had him when she was just 19. Nan was none too pleased but welcomed him with as much love and pride as she did all the children the night he was born. He is a grown man now, just finished university.
She plucks a feather from the basked and weaves it in to the cloak she has nearly finished and she remembers. She remembers when her daughter was born, she was about 25 then. Nan was well pleased as 25 was a much more suitable age, but then Nan could be a bit old-fashioned about some things. She lives with her grandmother now, as is the way of the weaver women. She is almost old enough to have a daughter of her own.
She plucks the last feather from the basket and knots it into the cloak. She ties off the excess flax and plaits the longer bits for decoration. She stands and carefully removes the cloak from the frame and she shakes it out. On the outside of the cloak is woven flax in an interesting but uniform pattern. On the inside thought, on the inside there are black feathers with a smattering of white in a distinct and familiar pattern. As she is looking at the inside of the cloak she realises that this, this is a door way to the universe.