When Dr Johnson Witehira's son first started attending kohanga reo (Maori early education centres), he noticed even in this full immersion environment all the tools the tamariki (children) were using in the gardens and the sandpit were European.
He knew Maori had their own tools, the use of which was once widespread. He wondered what it would be like for the children to dig into the whenua with items that connected to who they were, and to Te Ao Maori (the Maori world). This is where the seeds of Paku were sown.
The fruits of this idea are the Paku Toki and Paku Timo, a reimagining of some of the traditional agricultural tools once used in Aotearoa (New Zealand).
The What | Indigenous Gardening tools for kids The Paku Toki and Timo are a contemporary re-imagining of two traditional Maori agricultural tools.
The Why | Connecting to Culture through Design We designed the Toki and Timo for one simple reason; we wanted our children to grow up with things that connected them to their heritage as indigenous Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders. Unfortunately, product design in New Zealand mainly represents the imported settler culture. Our tools push back against this, bringing Maori and Maori knowledge to the fore through contemporary product design.
The How | Design with and for our people We spent over two years developing and prototyping the tools. A key question throughout this journey was, how do we engage with matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) and Maori communities in a meaningful way? In the first instance, this meant asking Maori whether or not Maori communities saw our project as valuable.
In the early stages, we took prototypes to several Maori spaces, including kohanga reo (Maori early education centres), wananga institutions, Massey University's School of Maori studies and Tahuri Whenua (the Maori food growers association). We also gave the prototypes to a select group of Maori experts in Design, education and agriculture. The response to the research was resoundingly positive. So, with support from our communities, we began to dive deeper into developing and refining the products.
Children were involved throughout the entire design process. We wanted to see how they reacted to and used the various prototypes in different settings. As our tools are scaled-down versions of older Maori gardening tools, these feedback loops greatly influenced the final design of the products. Our focus on tamariki (children) also influenced the name of our brand, Paku, which translates to 'small'.
As the Paku Toki and Timo are a set of digging tools designed for use by tamariki, we wanted the colours to be vibrant but also connected to matauranga Maori. Thinking about the tools through a Maori lens, we looked at colours related to Maori gardening, eventually settling on a range inspired by the different types of kumara (sweet potato). The final colours, ma (white), mawhero (pink), kowhai (yellow) and waiporoporo (purple), are applied to the handle of both our tools.
Partnering with a local manufacturer, we identified the waste stream from an existing product (one already made from recycled material). We then grind this plastic down again for use in the Paku toki and timo. While it's a bit harder to design things from a recycled source, the benefits of keeping waste out of our landfill allowed us to stay true to our practice.