Technology of Tapamaking

Decorated kapa fragment with four smaller cut samples, Hawaii. PM 90-17-70/48434.9
Strip for printing tapa (kupesi), PM 99-15-70/53872
Shell for first scraping (le asi), Samoa. PM 99-15-70/53883
Red dye from stone (ele) used for tapa printing, Samoa. PM 99-15-70/53878
Wooden tapa beater, Hawaii. PM 27-5-70/D2904.1
Piece of wood with inner-bark fibers, Hawaii. PM 99-12-70/53644
Early Fijian tapa cloth. PM 67-24-70/618.1

Barkcloth-making is very similar to papermaking, which originated in Asia, and it is a multifaceted process. On most of the islands, women produce the barkcloth. Depending on island resources and traditions, some of the steps are carried out by a woman working alone, while others involve several working together. The process and end product differ from island to island and result in a variety of traditions.

Tapamaking, Tonga. H24513

Generally, tapa production requires:

  • Cultivating and harvesting raw materials
  • Cutting the trees and separating the bark
  • Soaking, scraping, cleaning, and preparing the inner bark
  • Beating the inner bark into a flat sheet
  • Joining the flattened, beaten sheets to make a thicker and/or larger cloth
  • Decorating by various methods
  • Stitching and/or constructing for specific uses