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Student weaves his magic

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HARAKEKE HERO: Troy Mills won a wearable arts competition with his woven garment. Times photo Wayne Martin.

HARAKEKE HERO: Troy Mills won a wearable arts competition with his woven garment. Times photo Wayne Martin.

• Howick and Pakuranga Times

TROY Mills keeps it old school by maintaining traditional Maori tikanga (customs) when he is weaving his magic with harakeke (flax).

The year 13 Howick College student is an unusual weaver, in that the craft has mostly been a female task but the teenager has no problem with that.

“I wanted to learn carving first but there wasn’t a teacher and I don’t think we had enough people to take the class, so weaving was the next best option.”

He says members of his extended whanau weave and have taught him many of the protocols. 

“I karakia [pray] before cutting. You cut the outside of the flax only, diagonally away from the inside. The outside are the tipuna [ancestors] then [a layer in] are the parents then the pepi [babies].”

To Maori, harakeke is structured like family, with their elders on the outside protecting children.

“You want to cut the whole plant and keep it tidy so it grows better next time around.”

Troy then strips away the outside of the plant by hand, and leaves all the remains with the plant.

“Some people take it home and strip it there.

“But then you have to take everything back to the plant so I just do it there.”

Tikanga dictates all of plant’s remains must be taken back to the same plant. Other protocols include not cutting a plant at night or in the rain, women not weaving during their menstrual cycles, and not stepping over the flax when it is cut at anytime.

Troy can process 100 strips of flax in half an hour. “Once you get in to the rhythm of it, it’s pretty easy.” And his aunty has taught him a trick, but that secret’s being kept in the family.

“Once you’ve stripped it, you haro. It’s like when you curl a ribbon, you’re softening it. Then you can pretty much start weaving.”

Troy dyed his flax before making his piece, which won an award at Uxbridge’s recent wearable arts competition Te Aho Tuia – The Interlacing.

Taking out the best use of natural material category, Troy walked away with a koru-shaped trophy and a pounamu taonga (greenstone necklace).

His piece, titled Te Aho Tuhono, will be included in his end-of-year art portfolio. The bodice took an hour to create and the ‘skirt’ section about 30 minutes.

Troy was first taught the ancient craft at Howick’s creative centre in Uxbridge Road when he took a weaving class with teacher Shelly Whitewood, although since then his cousin Te Aroha Drummond has continued to show him some tricks of the trade.

“I still make things to give away, things like backpacks, mats and kete [baskets].”