Ngatu is the name for tapa in the kingdom of Tonga. As is common among other bark cloth throughout Oceania, it is made from the paper mulberry or hiapo, the Hibiscus, or the breadfruit tree.
Ngatu is still manufactured in Tonga today in large amounts. Women work together in groups to pound out large sheets using a long log as the anvil on which to beat the fibers of the tree bark. This wooden anvil is called a tutua. The beater used to pound the inner bark fiber is called an ʻike. Small pieces, called fetaʻaki, are joined together to make the full sized ngatu. Joining the sheets is done simultaneously while applying the design. Kupesi are placed underneath the fetaʻaki. Kupesi are the design tablets that transfer a design motif to the ngatu. First the kupesi is rubbed with brown pigment from bark of the koka tree (Bischofia javanica). Arrowroot is used as paste to attach the fetaʻaki together. The next stage in the process after the first rubbing with brown dye is to rub the entire surface again putting a new layer of dye. This makes the patterned design of the kupesi emerge like rubbing on a coin. The rubbed layer can also be over-painted with darker colors for more definition in the design.
Eventually, the cloth will become stiff and water repellant from the process of joining, pasting, and rubbing, which continues until the piece becomes as large as needed. Usually ngatu can be made 50 to 100 feet long or even longer. Some pieces have been known to be one mile long (!) and are carried and presented by long lines of women who support it on either side.
Tongan tapa is ngatu
Website Blog: Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa
Paperskin-large tapa @ Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand