South Auckland influencing inventive change around New Zealand and the world

Sikhs all over New Zealand and around the world are finding creative and cross-cultural ways to re-use the cloth they previously discarded after religious ceremonies thanks to an idea germinated in Takanini, South Auckland.

In Sikhism, Rumala Sahib are wrappings, draperies and coverlets used as altar cloths to protect prayer books and scriptures, or scarves worn during worship, traditionally burnt or thrown away after use. 

However in Takanini the Supreme Sikh Society of New Zealand is now donating the fabric to a number of local organisations where it is being upcycled into beautiful products which are reused by the wider community.

Around 200 women with the Cook Island Development Agency New Zealand (CIDANZ), Te Awa Ora Trust, the Mangere East Community Centre and the Auckland Regional Migrant Services under the Wise Collective are using their skills and creativity to give the fabric a second life and showcase the work based on their own cultural backgrounds.

Word of the initiative quickly spread and now five temples around New Zealand send their Rumala Sahib to Takanini for re-purposing and temples in a number of countries around the world including Canada, India, British Colombia and Australia are following the example of the Takanini Gurudwara.

“We have managed to find a unique solution on what to do with the holy cloth without hurting anyone’s sentiment and in a way that sees different communities acknowledging and respecting others’ faiths,” says Supreme Sikh Society New Zealand spokesperson Daljit Singh.

“The new works are also being distributed to the wider community generating a source of income to the families of those involved – an amazing opportunity to create positive outcomes for hundreds of families from different ethnic groups across Auckland.”

The Sikh community around the world had for a long time been trying to work out how the holy cloth could be reused without upsetting anyone.

The issue came up in conversations between the temple and a team of social intrapreneurs from The Southern Initiative and Healthy Families Manukau, Manurewa-Papakura who facilitated the upcycling plan through their contacts in South Auckland.

The project is now being carried out by local community organisations with support from TSI and HFMMP.  TSI has commissioned 50 bags made from the cloth, some of which will be used as hold-alls for delegates at a TSI social procurement conference being attended by people all over New Zealand.

An added and very significant bonus in the sacred cloth being reused is the reduction of CO2 emissions.  The Takanini Temple was burning on average one tonne of the fabric a year, releasing around 3.6 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. 

That’s equivalent to the CO2 emissions from a standard passenger vehicle driven for around 18,000 km or 1650 litres of petrol.  With other New Zealand temples now sending the Rumala Sahib to Takanini that amount has tripled. Add to that the tonnes burned by other temples around the globe and you’ve got extremely high levels of pollution now thankfully gradually and dramatically reducing.

“This is an extremely good example of how a small, bright idea at community level can make waves all over the world by increasing greater understanding and acceptance between different cultures,” says The Southern Initiative’s Director of Social and Community Innovation, Gael Surgenor.

“It means a bond between the Pasifika and other cultures with Sikh communities, a bond of respect and friendship which will continue to grow and flourish. We see this relationship as a win-win for all those involved, for South Auckland and also for the environment.”

CIDANZ Chief Executive Rouruina Emil’e-Brown says hundreds of women from their community are involved in upcycling the cloth.

“We are absolutely delighted to be part of this project which is seeing Cook Island, Samoan, Tongan, Māori and Sikh communities working hand in hand to create pieces of art for more and more people to enjoy, respect and cherish.”