When Dr Patricia Wallace wanted to piece together the mysteries of
traditional Maori dress she found inspiration in an unconventional form -
modern-day plastic Ken dolls. With the help of 'Barbie boyfriends' she was
able to reconstruct how early Maori traditionally wore large kaitaka
(cloaks) wrapped around their bodies.
Last month Dr Wallace became the first Ngata Centenary Doctoral Scholar to
graduate from Canterbury with a PhD in Maori. While the department has
previously awarded four doctorates, Dr Wallace is the first Maori person to
do her doctoral study solely in the Maori department. Her achievements are
even more remarkable for the fact that she only embarked on a university
education in her fifties.
In researching traditional Maori dress for her PhD thesis, Dr Wallace was
fascinated by an image of an unfamiliar garment drawn by artist Gilsemans
during Abel TasmanÝs voyage in 1642. A similar garment was drawn by
Parkinson during Captain CookÝs visit in 1769 and also by Webber during
CookÝs last voyage. The illustrations matched descriptions made by both
Tasman and Cook in their journals.
Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Sharp congratulates Dr Patricia Wallace on
her doctoral success.
Working from a 1771 portrait of Joseph Banks wearing a Maori kaitaka in the
style we know today, Dr Wallace was able to work out the approximate size
and weight of the cloak.
"I then used Barbie boyfriends as models to work out how the cloaks may
have been wrapped around the body. It was a little unconventional but it
In rediscovering forgotten elements of pre 1820 Maori dress, Dr Wallace's
thesis has produced new information about the diversity of traditional
Maori dress. The last major work in this area was done by Sid Mead thirty
Her research also focused on ephemeral elements, including hairstyle and
head adornment and the use of bird and animal skin. Drawing on evidence
from oral tradition and early European graphic imagery, her research also
pointed to levels of complex technology that are presently lost.
With the help of a Macmillan Brown Scholarship, Dr Wallace is currently
working with the British Musuem to try and throw light on the origins of a
feathered head dress, thought to be made from albatross feathers and
harakeke (flax). It was donated to the museum in 1853 as part of the
George Grey Collection but its origin is unknown as the Governor collected
items from all over the Pacific. Dr Neil Gemmell (School of Biological
Sciences) is to carry out DNA tests on the feather tips while Dr Debra Carr
from Otago University is to study the plant fibre material to ascertain
whether it is harakeke.
"Albatross is no guarantee that the head dress is from New Zealand but
harakeke will be," said Dr Wallace.
"It is exciting to be moving into this area of exploring material culture
and working as part of a multidisciplinary team. I would like to see
Canterbury establish a research name in this area as no one else is doing
For further reading in NZine about Maori traditional garments go to
articles by Margery Blackman
and Elizabeth Arnold.