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It’s in the Bag

Mel Williams, Kiwi North  


We love a bag!


This has always been the case, pardon the pun, in New Zealand. Historically, and still very prominent today, is the kete. I’ve always admired the intricacy of a kete, the detail that can be achieved by weaving flax and other plants together. I’ve often seen them worn as handbags and used as gift bags for presents, but I haven’t thought about the other uses so much, particularly in an historical sense.


At present, in the Mim Ringer Gallery, is an exhibition focussing on practical and decorative casings. Centred in the gallery, is a glass display case with a beautiful selection of kete and kete whakairo. The distinction between the two is quality and complexity. Kete whakairo are elevated to a higher status than the more utilitarian kete and will often show a more complex pattern or design. They are more decorative, while kete are more practical.



Functional kete are designed for specific tasks. Their size and the weaving method used is determined by its intended use. Kete are used for the collection of food like kaimoana, the collection and storage of supplies like kumara, carrying taonga for ceremonial purposes and for personal adornment.




You can go to any country in the world, stand in a crowd and yell “Where did I get my bag?” Guaranteed, at least one patriotic New Zealander will yell back at you, “Lands for bags of course, where else!”


Bags are a big part of who we are. We like to be prepared. When invited somewhere we never go empty handed. And if we are travelling further afield than our own neighbourhoods, we like to bring back mementos. So, bags in all forms are important.


A Kiwi Backpacker will almost always have a year’s supply of essentials, stored like a turtle in their Mac Pac.


Remember the 80’s and our canvas school bags, artistically personalised by sharpie with peace signs, the names of our friends and that person who we would “heart” 4eva.


Unloading a car full of groceries is almost always a person, as if taking up a challenge that no one has set, trying to carry every. single. bag. into the house at once without breaking their pinky fingers.


And show me one Mum who doesn’t travel with a magic Mary Poppins-ish bag with an endless supply of snacks, wet wipes and toys.


We do love a bag.

So much so that we even have TV shows about them.

So, what do you say New Zealand… the money or the bag?


External Focus is on display in the Mim Ringer Gallery until the 4th July 2022.



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