Unique Māori cloak made from kākāpō feathers goes on public display

A unique Māori cloak, made from the feathers of the critically endangered kākāpō has gone on public display following vital conservation work by Culture Perth and Kinross, the British Museum, and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

The kākāpō, also known as the owl parrot or moss chicken, is a rare ground-dwelling parrot of the superfamily Strigopoidea. As of 2023, there are only 247 known living individuals of the species left in New Zealand’s islands, making the kākāpō currently under threat of extinction.

- Advertisement -

Fossil records show that before the introduction of mammalian predators by human settlers, the kākāpō was one of the most common birds across all three main islands.

Due to its inability to fly and a response mechanism of freezing when threatened, this left the kākāpō easy prey as a food source for the Māori. Furthermore, its eggs and chicks were preyed upon by the Polynesian rat or kiore, which the Māori brought to New Zealand as a stowaway.

The cloak was part of a collection of taonga (highly valued cultural heritage), which was acquired by David Ramsay, a ships surgeon who settled in Perth in 1823.

Department of Conservation – Kakapo Sirocco – CC BY 2.0

The feathers of the kākāpō had been woven into the ground weave of the cloak by their very fine, thin shafts, which according to the conservationists, provides a unique insight into the knowledge and skill of the Māori weavers in the face of European colonisation.

- Advertisement -

The team used lightweight mulberry paper to repair some of the feathers that had become bent or partially split at their shafts, and applied a colour tone that matched the feathers.

The whole process took more than 100 hours to complete.

“To get a better understanding of how the kahu may have sat on the wearer, we made a mock-up out of the padding material the cloak would eventually be supported on. While the padding material wasn’t as fine and flexible as the kahu, it allowed us to see the overall shape, and where certain elements may have sat, such as the red kākā feather near the front of the cloak,” said the conservationists.

The treatment of the cloak also provided the opportunity to contribute to a DNA research project run by experts from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa as part of their wider project to conserve the kākāpō.

Header Image Credit : Trustees of the British Museum / Culture Perth and Kinross

Sources : The British Museum

- Advertisement -
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

Mobile Application


Related Articles

Bronze fitting depicting Alexander the Great found on Danish Island

Archaeologists have discovered a bronze fitting depicting Alexander the Great on the Danish island of Zealand.

Archaeologists uncover exquisite Roman glassware in Nîmes

An exquisite collection of glassware dating from the Roman period has been uncovered by INRAP archaeologists in the French city of Nîmes.

Frescos discovery among the finest uncovered at Roman Pompeii

A collection of frescos recently discovered at the Roman city of Pompeii have been described as among the finest found by archaeologists.

Study suggests that Egyptian sky-goddess symbolises the Milky Way

In Ancient Egyptian religion, Nut was the celestial goddess of the sky, stars, the cosmos, astronomy, and the universe in its whole.

Traces of Kettering’s wartime history rediscovered

Researchers from the Sywell Aviation Museum have announced the rediscovery of a preserved WW2 air raid shelter in Kettering, England.

Earthen pot containing 3,730 lead coins found at Phanigiri

Archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology have discovered an earthen pot containing a hoard of 3,730 lead coins at the Buddhist site of Phanigiri, located in Suryapet district, India.

Bronze lamp revealed as cult object associated with Dionysus

A study of a bronze lamp found near the town of Cortona, Italy, has revealed that it was an object associated with the mystery cult of Dionysus.

Neolithic coastal settlements were resilient in the face of climate change

A study of the submerged site of Habonim North indicates that Neolithic coastal settlements were resilient in the face of climate change.