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In this paper, we present a process for the visual apprehension of colours as they may have been seen by pre-European Māori. Colenso (1881) provides a unique view of the use of colour by pre-European Māori, with descriptions that come from having met and talked with those who had lived before the arrival of Europeans in their areas and before the colours and materials of Europeans had been adopted. In his descriptions, Colenso analogises colours so that today we can emulate them through the development of printing inks made from naturally occurring pigments.
It is difficult to perceive what pre-European Māori saw as pigments since most artefacts we have to view are faded remnants in glass cases. In the two centuries since their making, artefacts were affected by oxidation, damage from fungus and mould, fading from light, contaminating agents such as sweat from handling and dust, and chemical changes while buried (Siddall, 2018). The passing of those that created artefacts took with them the knowledge of how pigments were obtained, extracted, and synthesised. Thus the descriptions by Colenso (1881) are important in this study.
The analysis of pigments requires the application of carefully prescribed processes (for example, Siddall, 2018) that are outside the scope of this study. Instead, we seek to breathe life into organic and inorganic pigments to reimagine colours observed by pre-European Māori in a current context. From a range of local sites, raw materials that display an array of colours have been collected. The materials are in the form of clays, earths, and organic plant-based extracts.