Diggeress (Digger) Rangituatahi Te Kanawa

Ngāti Maniapoto

1920 -

Diggeress Te Kanawa was born in Te Kuiti, the daughter of Rangimārie and Tuheka Hetet. She was educated at Ratana Pa School, Turakina College, and Oparure Native School and left school at an early age because of ill health. Encouraged by her father "to watch and learn all she could from her mother", Diggeress spent much of her childhood acquiring weaving skills from Rangimārie and by the age of fourteen had made her first piupiu. She went on to work as a tayloress for John Dyall and John Govind in their Te Kuiti business and then set up a dressmaking business in Otorohanga with her cousin June Hetet. In 1940 she married Tana Tangitehau Te Kanawa at Pohatuiri Marae, Waitomo, and raised twelve children. In the 1950s, Rangimārie Hetet and Diggeress became members of Māori Women’s Welfare League, and were leading figures in reviving traditional weaving. In the following years, Diggeress has continued to teach these traditional skills; she has completed many weaving commissions and has exhibited widely.

In 1985 she was commissioned by Hillcrest High School in Hamilton to supervise the making of two tukutuku panels. In 1986 she was commissioned by the Otorohanga District Council to make a tukutuku panel for their new building. In 1988 she received a NZ Travel Award to research and document cloaks in museums in the UK and USA. In 1989 she received a commission by Te Atairangikaahu to make a wall hanging for presentation to the Queen of Denmark. In 1990 the Māori Women’s Welfare League commissioned Diggeress to make a wall hanging for presentation to Queen Elizabeth II at Government House. In 1994 she was commissioned to make a korowai for the British Museum, London.

Diggeress was involved in the establishment of a family-operated Ohaki Māori Village at Waitomo which was in operation from 1982-1992. In 1992 she attended the Contemporary Māori Art Exhibition at Balboa Park, San Diego, USA as a weaver, exhibitor and ambassador of New Zealand. In the following year, she was a tutor and demonstrator at the Weavers’ Symposium at Papakura Marae with weavers from the Pacific rim.

Diggeress is a member of the former Aotearoa Moananui-a-Kiwa Weavers which is now called Te Ropu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa. She is a life member of both the New Zealand Crafts Council and the Māori Women’s Welfare League. In the early 1980s, she won the Te Kopu Fashions Award. In 1982, Diggeress and Rangimārie won a joint Media Women’s Award for contribution to the arts. Diggeress received the Queen’s Service Order Medal for Community Service in 1987 and in 1990 was presented with a Commemorative Medal. She has been awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori arts and crafts, was a recipient of the Nga Tohu a Ta Kingi Ihaka/Sir Kingi Ihaka Award from Te Waka Toi in 2001, and was acknowledged by the New Zealand Arts Foundation as a New Zealand Icon Artist. In 2003 she received a Supreme Award at the Waitomo District Legends Award for her outstanding weaving career.

In 1976 Barry Barclay produced a film called Aku Mahi Whatu Māori which is about weaving a korowai; the film featured Diggeress and Rangimarie Hetet. In 1992, Diggeress published Weaving a Kakahu and two other special highlights of her weaving career: her making a korowai for Sir Henry Ngata in 1986, and completing a korowai for each of her children in 2000. On 5 April 2005, New Zealand sculptor Chris Booth unveiled a sculpture at Hamilton Gardens that involved draping a massive stone kakahu over five stone pillars; the kakahu incorporated a design by Diggeress.

Biographical sources

  • Correspondence and phone conversations with Diggeress Te Kanawa: Nov. 1992, 29 July 1998, 12 and 15 Oct. 2004, 22 Mar. and 15 Apr. 2005.
  • New Zealand Who’s Who Aotearoa. Ed. Alister Taylor. Vol. 1. Auckland, NZ: New Zealand Who’s Who Aotearoa, 1992: 284.


  • Korowai Makers, and, Dame Rangimarie Hetet. Wellington, N.Z.: Replay Radio, Radio New Zealand, [198-?].
  • 1 sound cassette.
  • Sheehan, Ariana. Diggeress Te Kanawa: Te Aho Tapu. The sacred thread woven by Diggeress Te Kanawa. [Hamilton], N.Z.: Waikato Museum, [200?].
  • "Diggeress Te Kanawa." Māori Artists of the South Pacific. Ed. K. Mataira. Raglan, N.Z.: Nga Puna Waihanga, 1984. 14-21.
  • "Rangimarie Hetet and Digger Te Kanawa." Celebrating Women, New Zealand Women and Their Stories. Ed. Christine Cole Catley. Prod. Mediawomen of New Zealand. Whatamongo Bay, N.Z.: Cape Catly, 1984. 52-54.
  • "Top Weaver Takes Te Kopu Fashion Award." Tu Tangata (Apr./May 1984): 8-9.
  • "Diggeress Rangituatahi Te Kanawa." Women and the Arts in New Zealand: Forty Works, 1936-1986. Ed. Elizabeth Eastmond and Merimeri Penfold. Auckland, N.Z.: Penguin Books, 1986.
  • "He Whiri Harakeke, Ka Tatanga. He Whiri Tangata, Ka Mau Tonu." Broadsheet 152 (Oct. 1987): 17. Rpt. in Broadsheet: Twenty Years of Broadsheet Magazine. Comp. and introd. Pat Rosier. Auckland, N.Z.: New Women’s Press, 1992. 292.
  • A short paragraph in Māori and English in which Te Kanawa discusses the origins of the Te Puawaitanga touring exhibition of Māori and Pacific Island weaving which opened in Christchurch, N.Z. in March 1987.
  • The Moa, and, Korowai Makers. Wellington, N.Z.: Radio New Zealand, Replay Radio, [1988]
  • In this cassette recording the story of the moa is narrated by Jack Perkins and Rangimarie Hetet and Digger Te Kanawa are interviewed by Alwyn Owen about making korowai.
  • Weaving a Kakahu. Photographs by Gil Hanly. Drawings by Cath Brown. Wellington, N.Z.: Bridget Williams Books; Aotearoa Moananui a Kiwa Weavers, 1992.
  • In this guide to weaving a kakahu, Te Kanawa describes the selection and cutting of the harakeke, the preparation and dyeing of the flax, the weaving, choice of pattern, taniko, shaping and finishing. In her Introduction, Te Kanawa recounts her development as a weaver and describes her trip with Emily Schuster to Britain and the USA in 1988 when they examined and documented Māori cloaks and other woven articles stored in museums.
  • Iosefa, Sarona. "Weaver Now An Author." The Press 2 June 1992: 8.
  • "Māori Weaver Has Hope For School." Te Māori News 2.8 (May 1993): 12.
  • Schamroth, Helen. "Diggeress Rangituatahi Te Kanawa." 100 New Zealand Craft Artists. Auckland, N.Z.: Godwit, 1998. 83.
  • "Cloaked In Stones For The World To See." Waitomo News 7 Apr. 2005.
  • Other

  • Walls, Hazel. "Weaving a Kakahu." Craft New Zealand 41 (Spring 1992): 40.


  • Erai, Michelle, Fuli, Everdina, Irwin, Kathie and Wilcox, Lenaire. Māori Women: An Annotated Bibliography. [Wellington, N.Z.]: Michelle Erai, Everdina Fuli, Kathie Irwin and Lenaire Wilcox, 1991. 35, 37.