A very ancient type of bark cloth, predominantly made in the Pacific Islands, primarily Tongo, (ngatu) Samoa (siapo) and Fiji (masi), from the bast fibres of the paper mulberry (Morus papyrifera), breadfruit or fig tree. This hand-made cloth is decorated with symbols and designs relating to the local culture and environment and is a sign of wealth and status, used as currency, gifted during rites of passage and worn as a garment. Now collector’s items, they are more commonly found displayed as wall hangings.

Making tapa cloth is a community affair. Once the plants have been grown and cut, the bark is cut into strips, the outer bark is scraped off and discarded leaving the inner bark in one long piece. Once this is fully dried, it is softened by wetting, which releases the natural cellulose. The bark strips are then beaten with wooden mallets over an anvil–usually a tree trunk–to give the bark a thinner and more translucent surface texture, and to seamlessly join overlapping lengths into a larger piece.

Most Tapa cloth is printed with stencils in highly geometrical patterns with hibiscus bark carved blocks, using natural dyes made from clay and tree sap. These brown dyes contrast wonderfully with the pale ivory colour of the untreated tapa cloth. Each cloth is around 2 x 4 metres, and sometimes cut up into 4-5 pieces during ceremonies, or to gift to guests.

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