On the island of Niue, hiapo is the term for bark cloth. When Samoan missionaries came to Niue in 1830, it is recorded that they brought hiapo with them, along with the Tahitian tiputa, which is a sort of poncho. It is reasonable to believe that this cultural sharing could be a historical bridge between Samoan and the Society Islands,arising not only from Missionary influence, but also as a result of a long history of inter-island voyaging typical of canoe expeditions in the region.
Although the hiapo is said to have come originally from Samoa, the quality in Niue is different from Samoan siapo. Samples from Niue, are made by felting layers into a single sheet the way it’s done in the Cook Islands. The mystery about hiapo of Niue is that no one knows what it is made for, since the size seems to be small for clothing or blankets. Speculation has it that the very creative designs on Niuen hiapo were made for some sort of commercial purpose. Perhaps the artistry involved points to a creative purpose that served as a pastime activity? Since 1901, no hiapo has been produced in Niue.
The designs on Niuen hiapo are not made with the rubbing method. The Niuens decorated their hiapo with freehand painting that is similar to the Samoan style. Rectangular or circular design compositions with abstract forms and plant forms are drawn with fine black lines, in a grid formation. Occasionally, people, stars, and fish are also drawn into the design. Hiapo beaters found in Niue, called ike, are unique to Niue. The ike are carved with very fine grooves and shaped with a cuff on the handle.
(Neich & Pendergrast, Pacific Tapa, 1997).
Tapa is the name used for bark cloth in the Cook Islands. In the northern Cook Islands the paper mulberry did not grow well. But it did grow in the southern Cook Islands and was made into tapa there. As in other Polynesian islands, the breadfruit tree bark and banyan bark were also used to make tapa. In the southern Cooks tapa was felted into a single layer, with no sign of joining.
Decorating the finished tapa was done with freehand painting, immersion in dye baths, or it was cut with designs in a patterned motif. The rubbing method using design tablets was not used in the Cook Islands. Diamond motifs, which were “associated with the sacred world of the gods,” were applied on masks using the freehand painting method. Masks were made and decorated in Mangaia and Rarotonga and they were used in pageants called eva, to remember gods and cultural heroes. These ceremonies also were performed in association with mourning.
Tiputa was worn as clothing in the Cook Islands, in the Tahitian style that is believed to have been the result of the strong missionary influence. The tiputa was fashioned as a long piece of tapa that had a hole cut into the middle to be worn on the body like a poncho. Pants were made too. Articles of clothing were cut at the edges in fringes and cuts were made throughout the article in repetitive patterns, as in Futuna.
In the Cook Islands, as elsewhere in Polynesia, making bark cloth was done by women. However, a special, heavier, white cloth called tikoru was made by men. This was a special ceremonial bark cloth that was used to wrap around god images and was the attire of priests and high chiefs. This use may reflect the connection to spiritual beliefs that the chief and priests are descendant from the gods themselves.
(Neich & Pendergrast, Pacific Tapa, 1997).
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum in Aotearoa, New Zealand has an incredible collection of Pacific tapa on exhibit. The exhibition is on for 2 more days on site. Check out their awesome online tapa gallery by clicking on the link below!
Info about the onsite exhibit here:
Today I am experimenting with various dyes and creating colors that will be used to dye the kapa I have made. I will hoʻawa, extract dye colors from plants, to make ka waihoʻoluʻu, the dye, using ʻōlena for yellow, ʻukiʻuki for blue… overlapped they might make green… we shall see…will post photos later…
The botanical names for these dye plants are:
The term for the beaten cloth in Fiji is masi. The method for making masi is basically the same as in Tonga where it is prepared using a process of soaking and beating the inner bast of the paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) is followed by pasting the pounded sheets together for length and strength.
In the past, men commonly wore a malo or masi, which is a strip of plain white bark cloth wound around the waist and between the legs, with a train billowing behind. The longer the length of the train, the greater the chiefly status. For women, everyday clothing was a skirt called a liku. Masi is considered nearly obsolete for traditional dress since its replacement by western style clothing and textiles. Traditional dress styles using masi are not worn as everyday wear but they are still used for dances and important ceremonies like the installation of a chief, or special family occasions.
Ceremonial masi on the occasions of funerals, weddings, and chiefly ceremonies is ongoing. The bride and groom will be wrapped in long pieces of masi, in the customary fashion, and similar coverings would be worn when chiefs are installed. There is great honor associated with masi and it is a symbol of wealth. Gifts of masi are given in extravagance for marriages. It is a source of pride for the whole village to produce this exchange of wealth. Masi is very significant at death and is presented as a gift when someone dies. There is spiritual power associated with masi, as it was “recognized as having ability to carry the strength of the gods” (Fulmer, 1998).
Design work of Fijian Masi
There is a variety of techniques used in Fiji to decorate the masi. They range from freehand painting with pandanus brushes as in Samoa, to Fijian rollers and stencils, to the design tablets of Tongan influence. The finished lengths of masi decorated using rubbing tablets with midrib patterns are known as gatu vakatoga, translated as “Tongan cloth made in the Tongan way.” Gatu vakaviti is a combination of the Tongan rubbing method and the Fijian stencil application method. Gatu vakaviti literally means, “Tongan cloth in the style of Fiji” (Neich & Pendergrast, 1997).
Do you want to know more about Fiji? Here are two good articles that explain current events, traditional foundations, and colonial history:
Siapo is the common name used for bark cloth in Samoa. The siapo is the paper mulberry tree bark for the material called uʻa. The bark is prepared in the common way of removing and preparing the bast. The tools used to beat out the uʻa is the anvil called a tutua, which is about 3 feet long for a single person to work, or six feet long for two or three people to work together. The beater used is called an is called an iʻe. The iʻe has two smooth sides and two grooved sides. After the uʻa is beaten into a sheet, it is dried in the sun and made ready for design applications.
Would you like to learn more about this topic? Check out this amazing website full of great info: siapo.com
Kupesi design tablets in Tonga are constructed by sewing coconut midribs onto a pandanus or coconut leaf sheath. This style of kupesi, which is still used today, is believed to have spread from Tonga to Fiji and Samoa, and beyond to other islands (tongabarkcloth.com).
The designs on Tongan ngatu are known for commemorating historical events in their motifs. Such memorable things in the life of Tongans as the introduction of bicycles, electric poles, and other historical events have been recorded in ngatu designs to document these occasions. Abstract and natural motifs are used. Ngatu ʻuli is black and used only for funerals, whereas ngatu tahina was lighter and used commonly.
Although ngatu is not worn as clothing anymore it is still highly valued. It continues to be a very important traditional koloa (treasure of women) and given as a gift item at ceremonies such as births, weddings, and funerals. It is given in amounts that make a statement about rank and social standing. This is an important facet of Tongan culture and has been recognized by scholars as part of the Tongan cultural system of gift exchange in a ceremonial economy.
I had the chance to do several demonstrations at the Kauaʻi Museum in April and May. It was interesting to get out in public and showcase the methods and processes of Hawaiian Kapa. My audiences were interested and asked many questions about involvement of youth, natural dyes, longevity of kapa cloth, relationships to other cultures, and more… There were some good discussions that got going. I used the opportunity to survey my audiences to understand better about the impressions kapa had on them. One surprising fact? 95% of people surveyed had no knowledge that Hawaiʻi was annexed to the United States in an illegal coup. Now that surprised me because if Hawaiʻi is indeed part of the U.S. it seems to me that U.S. History curriculum should include the story of the Hawaiian Kingdom in it’s course of study. Just saying…
On Kapa the World
by Anuhea Yagi
June 09, 2011 | 12:15 PM
Two years ago, the following press release was written to announce an event commemorating the annual holiday for King Kamehameha I. The event was held at the Bailey House Museum on Maui…
“Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau wrote in 1870, that “all are dead who knew how to make the coverings… that made the wearers look dignified and proud and distinguished.” But the art of Hawaiian kapa-making (i.e. a painstakingly rendered traditional fabric made from the bast fibers of, often, paper mulberry called wauke) was revived some 100 years later—and in 1987, cultural practitioners Wesley Sen, Hokulani Holt and Pua Van Dorpe held kapa-making workshops at the Bailey House Museum.
Returning to the roots of this revitalization—and in honor of Kamehameha Day—Holt and Sen, with the Maui Historical Society and Bailey House Museum, present Hina & Maui: The Story of Hawaiian Tapa Making (Ka Mo’olelo no ke Kapa o Hawai’i Nei) this Friday. Holt has written original hula and chant that tells the legend of Hina and Maui, while Sen has fashioned one-of-a-kind costumes made of traditional kapa for the performers. In addition to the performance, antique kapa from the museum’s collection will be exhibited, plus a presentation on kapa-making by Sen.”