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Tapa Cloth - photos

Cloth photo
Cloth photo
Cloth photo
Cloth photo
Cloth photoTapa cloth (or simply tapa) is a bark cloth made in the islands of the Pacific Ocean, primarily in Tonga and Samoa, but as far afield as Java, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and Hawaii. Tapa cloth is used in both functional and ceremonial purposes. The cloth has played important roles in weddings, funerals and events associated with royalty. The painted patterns feature mostly geometricized plants and fish. Special designs are sometimes used commemorate important events.

The making of the Tapa is quite involved. In Tonga hiapo is the name given to the paper-mulberry tree. They are often grown in a corner of plantations. They are cut and then the bark is stripped away from the left over wood. The bark consists of 2 layers. The outer bark is discarded by being scraped or stripped away from the inner bark. The inner bark is dried in the sun and then soaked.

The bark is then made thinner by being beaten on a wooden tutua anvil using wooden mallets called ike. The continuous sound of beating the bark can be heard throughout Tongan villages.

When the strips are thin enough, several strips are taken together and beaten together into a large sheet. Eventually there are two layers of strips in perpendicular direction. A knife or sharp shell is used to trim the edges

It is common to see the women of a village working together on a huge sheet of tapa. Large Tapa sheets can be around 3 meters wide and 15, or 30, even 60 meters long. The 15 meter pieces are called launima (meaning: five-sheet, because the sheet is 5 squares), and the 30 meter pieces are called lautefuhi.

Next the Tapa cloth is painted using earthly colours such as reds, browns, and black.


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Author & photographer: David Johnson (Virtual Oceania)

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