"I wanted to share what I had with whoever wanted to learn... I was told if I thought I could carry it, then I had the permission to do so..."

Diggeress Te Kanawa was born in 1920 to Dame Rangimarie Hetet and Taonui Hetet. Her father named her in honour of the WWI troops referred to as "Diggers".  At the age of twenty she married Tana Te Kanawa and together they raised twelve children.

Diggeress grew up as part of a close-knit community that continued to treasure its traditions. This upbringing led her to embrace the proverb, "Puritia nga taonga a o tatou tupuna: Hold fast to the treasures of our ancestors" which, she said, was personally signicant to her life. Diggeress belonged to a family of significant weavers. She took up the craft at an early age herself, learning the sophisticated weaving techniques from her mother and other local kuia.

Diggeress and her family played an important role in maintaining Māori weaving traditions and, as members of the Māori Women's Welfare League, were instrumental in their resurgence during the 1950s. Although weaving had been maintained in some areas in New Zealand during the 19th century, many skills had been lost and there was an urgent call for their revival. Diggeress inspired innumerable others by passing on her knowledge through wananga, workshops, lectures and exhibitions. Her dedication to the maintenance of Māori fibre art led to the publication of the book Weaving a Kakahu (1992), which is the formal expression of a life committed to weaving.
 

 Diggeress Te Kanawa
with her Icon Award medallion and pin,
designed by John Edgar,
awarded in 2001

Her work was included in exhibitions such as Te Amokura o te Māori (1986), Rotorua National Hui (1990), Te Waka Toi: Contemporary Māori Art from New Zealand (1992), and Paa Harakeke at the Waikato Museum (2002). The Waikato Museum of Art and History was the venue for the exhibition Te Aho Tapu - The Sacred Thread (2004), and the Hamilton Gardens commissioned the sculpture Nga Uri o Hinetuparimaunga, a collaboration between Diggeress and contemporary sculptor Chris Booth (2005).

Diggeress was awarded a C.N.Z.M. (Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit) in the 2000 New Year honours and the Nga Tohu a Ta Kingi Ihaka/Sir Kingi Ihaka Award from Te Waka Toi for her contribution to Māori Art in 2001. In 2003, she received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Award.  She also received Te Waka Toi Māori Art Board of Creative New Zealand premiere Award, Te Tohu Tiketike o Te Waka Toi for a Lifetime Commitment to Māori Weaving in 2006 and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato for her dedication to keeping alive the traditions of fine weaving in 2007.

Diggeress died in 2009 at the age of 89.    At the time of her passing, Tariana Turia, co-leader of the Maori Party, said "Mrs Te Kanawa was a vessel of knowledge for the survival and renaissance of raranga and whatu (kete weaving and cloak making), and taniko weaving for the cloak borders, and she had passed much of her knowledge on to thousands of young people".

1920
Born in Te Kuiti
1951
Starts teaching weaving with her mother for Māori Women's Welfare League
1978
Exhibits Craft New Zealand
1988
Studies collections of Māori weaving in America and Britain
1992
Publication of Weaving a Kakahu
1999
Completed collection of 12 korowai made for her children - reflecting each individual personality -(held in trust at the Waikato Museum).
2000
Awarded a C.N.Z.M. in the 2000 New Year honours list
2001
Awarded the Nga Tohu a Ta Kingi Ihaka/Sir Kingi Ihaka Award from Te Waka Toi for her contribution to Māori Art
2002
Exhibits a korowai in Paa Harakeke, Waikato Musem
2003
Inaugural Arts Foundation Icon Award recipient
2004
Was included in the Eternal Threads exhibition which toured the USA and Canada
2005
Nga Uri o Hinetuparimaunga, contributed the blanket design in partnership with sculptor Chris Booth, entranceway, Hamilton Gardens
2006
Received Te Waka Toi Māori Art Board of Creative New Zealand premiere Award, Te Tohu Tiketike o Te Waka Toi for a Lifetime Commitment to Māori Weaving;
2007
Received an honorary doctorate from the University of Waikato for her dedication to keeping alive the traditions of fine weaving in 2007. 
2008
Received the He Kura Waka o Te Wananga o Aotearoa Award in acknowledgement of her work.
2009
Passed away, aged 89
2016
An exhibition at Waikato Museum honouring the life achievements of Diggeress Te Kanawa and her mother, Dame Rangimarie Hetet, wins Best Exhibition - Regional Taonga Māori at the Museums Aotearoa awards

Awards