Rights: University of Waikato. All Rights Reserved. Published 29 February 2012 Download

Dr Bronwyn Lowe (University of Otago) worked with Māori weavers to explore the properties of different harakeke varieties. In this clip, Bronwyn explains how the weavers’ traditional knowledge (mātauranga) and her own findings from microscopy of harakeke leaves often echoed each other.


There’s heaps and heaps of knowledge handed down and existing within any weaver when she’s working and growing up with it, and what was really nice was often there’d be affirmation of the weaving knowledge with the scientific knowledge. We were looking at micrographs of plants with really good fibre, and I was pointing out how the fibres looked really big and strong and really even in shape and even in size, and the weavers are just saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s how it feels to our hands too, you can feel that there’s a lot of fibre in there, you can feel that it feels even.”

Another really nice example was where one of the weavers came into the scanning electron microscope room with me one day. We were looking at two really contrasting plants, one that had really good fibre in and one that was really difficult to extract the fibre from. I was seeing all the beautiful shapes and cells on the surface of the leaf and the stomata, which is how the air and carbon dioxide and oxygen go in and out of the plant, and then she just said, “Oh, I wonder if that’s what makes it hard to extract the fibre because the surface of the leaf is kind of stuck to the tissues underneath?” And of course, I’d never thought of that because it’s not in my experience to even think about the plant that way. And she was looking at those images and saying, “Well that’s how that plant behaves, and I wonder if those things connect up.”

It was a really nice interaction between how I think about the data and the weavers think about the data.

Debra Carr
Kaimahi Harakeke