4 Dec 2023

Paku: functional kids toys inspired by Māori tools

From Afternoons, 2:20 pm on 4 December 2023

Māori have a rich history of designing homes, clothes, vehicles and tools - why should that be discontinued?

That's the question that drives Dr Johnson Witehira and Jamie Prier of the new toy brand Paku.

The Wellington designers and old friends combined skills to create kid-friendly versions of traditional Māori tools from recycled nylon.

Dr Johnson Witehira and James Prier of the toy company Paku NZ

Dr Johnson Witehira and James Prier of the toy company Paku NZ Photo: Paku NZ

Paku's child-sized toki (Māori adze) and timo (Māori gardening tool) are intended for use by kids aged 3 to 13 but also perfectly functional, Jamie says.

"If you consider a high-quality potting spade that you might get from one of the big stores, this is like a fun and interesting replacement for one of those."

Although designed for children, the toy tools are popular with adult gardeners too, Johnson says.

"Jamie used all his engineering skills and talent to make sure that these are robust, proper tools that you know, anyone can use in any garden, really."

The design process for the toki and timo - which are manufactured in Lower Hutt and assembled at Jamie's whare - took a good couple of years, Jamie says.

Johnson took prototypes of the toys to different Māori communities and kohungas while Jamie took them to kindies and play centres - and repeatedly got his kids to test them out.

"Every weekend I'd give them another prototype: 'Go weed the garden, kids.' [My kids] were one of the big driving forces behind the final design."

It's lovely to see how excited adults get seeing tamariki with traditionally inspired tools in their hands, particularly in Māori communities, John says.

"So much of Māori material culture is in museums and so much of how people see us is in the past. We thought, 'Well, we designed all these things in the past, right. We designed our homes, our clothes, our vehicles, our tools. Why aren't we [still] designing those things?

"That was our question and that's what drives us to make these things. Particularly because we want our kids, who've got Māori and Pakeha heritage, to grow up not feeling disconnected from the whenua that theyre on.'

This year, Johnson and Jamie have been developing adult versions of the tools - working to create a "well-considered product", Johnson says, rather than just a replica spade.

This week, Paku released a new product on their website - a set of Māori alphabet building blocks.

A functional toy toki (Māori chisel) made by Paku NZ

A functional toy toki (Māori chisel) made by Paku NZ Photo: Paku NZ

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