A Book of Tapa

By: Henry Usher Hall

Originally Published in 1921

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In the year 1787 there was published in London an interesting and curious book styled a CATALOGUE and illustrated with samples cut from specimens of the tapa or bark cloth collected by Cook and his companions during the great explorer’s three voyages. The title page and the quaint dedication are reproduced here from a copy of this work lately bought by the University Museum from funds of the George Leib Harrison Foundation. The text is brief, consisting of some observations on the manufacture of bark cloth in Polynesia taken chiefly from the journals of Cook, Anderson, and John Reinhold Forster. The last, with his son George, accompanied Cook as naturalist on his second voyage and thereafter published, among other results of his travels, a book containing some “Remarks on the Human Species,” from which our anonymous compiler quotes and which he recommends to the reader’s notice with the remark that it has been “much neglected, upon account of Mr. Forster’s adhering to that justly exploded system of making everything tally with the ancient dreams of dead and rotten Jews.”

The title page of the book, reading 'A Catalogue of the Different Specimens of Cloth collected in the three voyages of Captain Cook to the southern hemisphere, wit ha particular account of the manner of manufacturing the same in the various islands of the south seas
Title page of the Book of Tapa
Museum Object Number: 87-3-1
Image Number: 45
The dedication of the book, stating that this is but a small sampling of the construction of cloth around the world
The Dedication of the Book of Tapa
Museum Object Number: 87-3-1
Image Number: 46, 47

There are also, appended to the CATALOGUE proper, “the verbal account of some of the most knowing of the navigators” and “anecdotes that happened to them among the natives” in the form of notes on the items listed. The list contains thirty-nine items, the book forty-three specimens of tapa. The volume has been rebound; possibly four samples have been added since its original publication. A copy in the Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts, contains fifty-six specimens and a list of thirty-nine pieces [Catalogue of the Hawaiian Portion of the Polynesian Collections, 1920, p. 25]. Another copy described by Dr. W. T. Brigham in his book Ka Hana Kapa on tapa making [Memoirs of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, III, Honolulu, 1911] has the same number of items in the CATALOGUE; Dr. Brigham does not state whether the specimens bound in the book exceed this number. He describes only thirty-nine, his notes on these being appended to each item in the list, copied usually in full from the CATALOGUE. So far as appears from his comments, the order of items in his copy is assumed to correspond to the arrangement of the samples; in this he appears to be mistaken, at any rate in some instances. This should be apparent in the course of the collation attempted below, in which the Museum’s copy of the CATALOGUE is quoted with Dr. Brigham’s remarks on each numbered item, and descriptions of and observations on the specimens in the order in which they appear in that copy are appended.

If some of the samples are duplicates, as they seem to be, the number of distinct specimens could readily be reduced to the tally of the printed list. But this principle of reduction might even be so applied as to bring the former number below that count; and there remain the possibilities of the addition of specimens by collectors through whose hands the book may have passed in the one hundred and thirty-four years since its publication by Alexander Shaw; of the removal of specimens—three leaves on which small samples might have been pasted have been cut out; and of an original carelessness of arrangement—there has been no attempt to number the specimens themselves—to confound any attempt to identify particular examples as they stand with the numbers of the list, which is not in any real sense descriptive. The original compiler’s chief concern, apart from that in the methods of manufacture, seems to be with the human interest evoked through contact by the proxy, so to speak, of their intimate belongings with the simple people of the Southern Seas. It is with a kind of pleased surprise that he finds these peoples capable of emotions quite other than fierce— “a true sign of gratitude in those people,” “a true sense of honour”—and is at pains to record them in the words of “knowing navigators” who had themselves observed the gratifying, if unlooked for, facts.

Of the accounts of the manufacture of bark cloth, but one is from an anonymous navigator. The other narrators quoted are well known. The former appears to have been an ordinary seaman, and to have made the following observations while on shore duty.

“When in the island of Huaheine [one of the Society Islands, of which Tahiti is the chief], I was ordered to go and cut some wood, and in my way up the country I observed about twenty females taking a large quantity of barks of trees out of a pond where it had lain soaking about a month: they then began to join and form it into cloth; I have seen a piece of cloth of fifty yards completely finished in five or six days after being taken out of the water. They use very few instruments, I never counted above seven. There are very few countries without barks or trees that may be made into cloth. In Britain there are many, and upon the Continent still more. Both the East and the West Indies produce great plenty: but the paper mulberry of the South Sea, and the lace trees of Jamaica, yield the most perfect materials, so that cloth may be produced from either in a few days.” Indeed a traveled and a knowing navigator!

The other accounts quoted by our compiler are too lengthy to be reproduced here. A very succinct and, for the present purpose, sufficiently complete exposition of methods is the following by Horatio Hale, taken from the volume on Ethnography and Philology of the Report of the United States (Wilkes) Exploring Expedition, p. 41.

An open book showing pieces of fabric
The Book of Tapa open. The right hand side shows a piece of tapa from which a corner has been cut.
Museum Object Number: 87-3-1
Image Number: 51

“Many tribes in various parts of the world have the art of making a kind of cloth from the bark of a tree. That which is peculiar to the Polynesian custom is merely the mode adopted, which is common to all the islands, except New Zealand. It consists in peeling off strips of the bark of the paper mulberry [Broussonetia papyrifera] or of the breadfruit tree [Artocarpus incisa], which are divested of the outer cuticle, and after being soaked for a time in water, are laid upon a smooth plank, and beaten out, by repeated blows of a mallet, to a substance not unlike thick but flexible paper; sometimes, however, it is so fine as to resemble gauze. The strips are united by overlaying their edges and beating them together. The mallet used . . . is a stick rather more than a foot in length and five or six inches in circumference, either square, or, in some islands, nearly round, and creased or channeled with parallel grooves from one end to the other.”

This needs a little supplementing and one amendment. The cultivation of the paper mulberry was an invariable feature of the industrial life of the Polynesians. Even to New Zealand it had accompanied their wide sea borne wanderings. But the employment of its product there was limited, seemed only a memento of old, half remembered, far off ways. The climate required the use of more substantial coverings for the body than its fragile bast provided, but they had preserved its cultivation and use, though only for purposes of ornament, it appears. “Our island cloth,” writes Banks [Journal, p. 204], “which used to be so much esteemed has now entirely lost its value. The natives have for some days past told us that they have some of it ashore, and showed us small pieces in their ears, which they said was of their own manufacture.” During a visit on shore, “they showed us a great rarity, six plants of what they called aouta, from whence they make cloth like that of Otahite. The plant proved exactly the same as the name is the same, Morus papyrifera, Linn. (the Paper Mulberry) . . . . We have not yet seen among them pieces large enough for any use, but only bits sticking into the holes of their ears” [p. 206]. Wallis [Cook I, i, 48] also mentions this.

As for the trees which yielded bast to the Polynesians, we must add to Hale’s list a species of fig [Ficus prolixa] and one of the nettles [Pipturus albidus].

A paste made of arrowroot was sometimes used for joining strips of tapa endwise, and occasionally also to ensure the better cohesion of layers of the bast, when a cloth consisted of more than one thickness. The dyes used, apart from ochreous earths, were for the most part vegetable products. To help in the application of the chiefly rectilineal designs rulers were employed, as well as stamps; in Tahiti, fern fronds were used as stamps. The manufacture was everywhere women’s work. But “though the native cloth worn by the inhabitants [of Tahiti] was made by the women, there were some kinds used in the temples in the service of the idols, which were made by men, and which it was necessary, according to the declarations of the priest, should be beaten by night” [Ellis, Polynesian Researches, i, 186].

There are a few terms, quoted from Ka Hana Kapa, indicating the nature of the beater used in the manufacture of bark cloth, or of the impression left by the beater, with a few other words, which require explanation. They are as follows: alaea, ochre mixed with oil; halua, a pattern on beaters, two sets of parallel lines crossing at right angles; hoopai, the common beater, with close parallel ridges; konane, said of a beater of which the surface is divided into fairly large squares separated by grooves at right angles; mahuna, spotted, or oiled, tapa; mole, smooth; maka upena, “meshes of a net” ; pawehe, said of a pattern showing two sets of parallel lines crossing at an angle not a right angle; pepehi, a beater with ridges differing from those of the hoopai in being rounded at the top ; pupa, said of an impression made by a beater having a pitted surface; upete (Samoan), a form used for printing tapa.

The name tapa, which is now very generally used to denote the bark or bast cloth of the Polynesians, is found in that sense only in Easter Island, in Mangareva, in the Marquesas, and in Hawaii (in the form Kapa). In Tahiti, tape means a fragment of cloth. The original signification of the word appears to have been edge or side. Thus, in Niue or Savage Island, it means side; in New Zealand, margin, edge, brim of a vessel; in Hawaii, besides the specialized sense, it means bank, shore, side; Tahitian has the word tapemoana, meaning edge of the deep water. In the last two cases the general sense has become specialized into that of an edge or line of demarcation between land and water. In Easter Island and in Tahiti we see a specialization of the general meaning following a different line. In the former place, the word has, besides the meaning cloth, also the sense of groin; in Tahitian the word toutaba (in which tou or tau is apparently a collective particle) signifies the glands of the groin. Here the meaning of the word has become applied to a side or edge of the trunk or body. It is a third line of specialization which has given us the meaning of cloth. In Tonga tapa means a border or edge of anything; in Samoa, a near neighbour of Tonga, it means the uncoloured margin or border of a piece of bark cloth; in Mangareva the final transference of meaning from a part of the cloth to the whole has taken place: there the word means not only the border of a cloth but also bark cloth in general [Churchill, The Polynesian Wanderings, p. 248; Easter Island, p. 285; Finsch, Südseearbeiten, p. 361; A Voyage round the World performed . . . by Lewis de Bougainville, translated from the French by John Reinhold Forster, p. 475].

The uses to which the bark cloth was put were many and varied. Its principal use was for clothing, chiefly in the form of loin cloths for men or women, breech cloths for the men, mantles or cloaks for both sexes. By the use of a resinous infusion of the bark of a certain tree the cloth could be rendered fairly waterproof. But tapa was also an important medium of exchange and an element of wealth; as such it was presented to distinguished visitors as a mark of favour. It had also many uses connected with ceremonial and religious occasions, such as the negotiation of a treaty, offerings to the gods, naval reviews, funeral rites—as flags of the gods or of kings, wrappings of sacrificial animals or of other sacred objects, vestments, etc. In New Zealand, where the use of the aute (plant or cloth) was becoming obsolete in Cook’s time and was extinct in the thirties of the last century, the cloth was the special appanage of chiefs, who were traditionally, though not actually, ” girded with aute.” There also it was used for making kites and as wrappings for articles of value [Letter of S. Percy Smith to Dr. Brigham, quoted in Ka Hana Kapa, pp. 17, 18].

At the close of his dedication the compiler of the CATALOGUE observes that he “here presents” together with his precious specimens of outlandish arts “a description formed of information from some of the navigators, and my own observations.” Even if we are to take his “observations,” as we probably must, since he speaks nowhere on his own authority, as those of one whose voyaging was confined to the safely charted shelves and pages of the library, we cannot refuse to him our gratitude for his share in the preservation of these relics of a vanishing race, and our sympathy with his admiration for the gallant seamen who were carrying his country’s flag to the remotest corners of the seven seas and for the great proconsul who had but lately returned from “teaching Indian nations how to be happy” to learn that the Mother of Parliaments is sometimes a none too tender stepmother to her country’s greatest sons. Warren Hastings had returned from India in 1785, two years before the publication of this dedication; within another year he was to be called to the bar of the House to answer charges of “high crimes and misdemeanours” put forward with all the eloquence and partisan animus of Burke and Fox and Sheridan. There cannot be much doubt that the letter of dedication is addressed to the first titular Governor General of India.1

In the discussion of the CATALOGUE which follows, the Arabic numerals are those used by the compiler; the Roman numerals refer to the actual order of the specimens in the University Museum’s copy of the CATALOGUE.


Drawings of pieces of cloth made from bark
Samples of Stuff from the Book of Tapa: The pieces of cloth are bound up in the book, having been collected by Captain James Cook among the natives of the South Sea Islands.
Museum Object Number: 87-3-1
Image Number: 256002

“Specimen 1. From New Amsterdam; and made to resist rain, by being smeared over with the juice of a glutenous herb or plant, before described.” Dr. Brigham remarks on this: “A thin cloth printed brown with the upete, showing pattern on both sides.” He refers to Figs. 17 and 18 in Ka Hana Kapa, which are photographs of a Tongan tapa. New Amsterdam is the old name for Tongatabu. The specimen referred to in the CATALOGUE may be either XII, XXI, or XXIX, which are all Tongan.

  1. A dark brown tapa beaten so thin as to be transparent, even holed in several places. One side has a glazed appearance, but it would certainly not resist rain. Except for the beater used, this specimen is almost identical with a sample (ANS 10502) in the Academy of Natural Sciences, which is taken from a set of bedclothes in the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum (2404), once the property of the Princess Pauahi. The imprint of the beater in the latter is an ordinary hoopai; in the former hoopai halua, very well marked. This is a Hawaiian tapa.

“2. From Otaheite [Tahiti]. This is used to spread below the chiefs while at dinner under the trees.” Brigham: ” Thin, tough, white; beat is hoopai, very fine.”

  1. A white tapa composed of several layers, each beaten to a lacelike thinness, the whole somewhat imperfectly felted together to form a soft, fairly thick material. Both sides, but one particularly, show distinct markings of a not very fine hoopai beater. It may be Tahitian, and may be the original No. 2.

“3. From Sandwich island. This was no larger than a common tablecloth; the dyes are mattie ficues and burnt cocoanut mixed with the oil of the same.” Brigham: ” Coarse fibre, mole, painted with irregular stripes of black crossed by others of red at an angle of 45 degrees, both series in pairs.” As to the dye being “mattie ficues,” he remarks ” Not so, but red ochre.” ” Sandwich island” is Hawaii. ” Mattie ficues” is the mate fig (Ficus tinctoria Forst.) of Tahiti.

  1. This is plain white, of six layers very loosely felted together, if at all; such cohesion as there is may be accidental. The texture is very like that of II, but more lacelike. The mark of the beater (hoopai) is barely distinguishable. This may be a Hawaiian kapa moe, or set of bedclothes. It is obviously not the one referred to in the CATALOGUE under No. 3.

“4. This from the same place; and the dyes of the consistence just mentioned.” Brigham: ” A small bit of thick mole, with the figures as shown in Plate W, 1.” This remark of Dr. Brigham’s is applicable to No. XXXVI.

  1. Of a stiff, papery consistency. On an originally white ground there are closely ruled black lines, sometimes coalescing, on each side of a pair of red stripes apparently painted over yellow. Hawaiian (Plate I, 3).

“5. Is also from Sandwich island and very strong. It resists water pretty well; the dye is the same as the former.” Dr. Brigham quotes the original observation concerning strength and resistance to water, and adds ” Mamaki hoopai. . . . Dyed a reddish brown.” ” Mamaki” refers to the material, Pipturus albidus, one of the nettles.

  1. The decoration of this piece is illustrated in Brigham, p. 109, Fig. 6 [Cf. op. cit. Plate W, 2] and identified as Hawaiian [Op. cit., p. 107 and footnote]. It is also identified by him as No. 8 in his copy of the CATALOGUE. The same yellow tinge appears to underlie the red stripes as in IV. This may be due to an ingredient of the dye (Plate II, 1).

“6. From Otaheite, used for bedding.” Brigham: “Tahiti. Thick, white and feltlike; in two layers not well united.”

  1. A variant of the pattern shown in IV. The black lines are arranged in groups of three separated by uncoloured spaces of the natural ground, each about the same width as that occupied by a black lined space. A double red stripe is juxtaposed to one of the latter. A single red line crosses these groups diagonally, at what intervals does not appear, owing to the small size of the specimen. The tapa is not so stiff as, and somewhat thicker than, IV. Hawaiian (Plate I, 9).

“7. From Otaheite; wore . . . by the common people in the rainy season; it is glazed as number one.” Brigham: “A hard, ribbed fabric, dyed red.”

  1. Identical with IV. A smaller piece.

“8. Was six yards square; it is a masterpiece of the Sandwich
island manufacture, and wore by the ladies of honour; the dyes are the same as three and four, but finer ground.” Brigham: “Mole, coloured as shown in PI. W, 2. . . . To the small fragment from which the author [Brigham] painted the plate referred to has since been added a much larger piece from the Florence collection of Cook’s kapa by Dr. E. H. Giglioli, and there is little doubt that both are from the same large specimen.” This is applicable to V. The red and black lines in Pl. W, 2, cross each other not at right angles as they do in V and in Brigham, Fig. 64, so that if these are all taken ” from the same large specimen,” the pattern of that must vary somewhat in different parts.

  1. This is thick, of close texture, strongly ribbed, and, so to speak, woolly to the touch. It is not of paper mulberry bark, probably of that of the breadfruit [Artocarpus incisa]. On a white ground are painted at intervals groups of alternately black and red lines at right angles to the direction of the ribs. There is a hole in this specimen, marking the space which was originally occupied by a knotted tie or stitch, as in XIII, XXIII, XXVI, and XXX. Tahitian (Plate I, 7).

“9. From Otaheite; wore by the people in fine weather; it is made of the outer rind of the mulberry tree.” Brigham: “Tahiti_ A rather rough specimen with transverse ribs. It appears to have been dyed yellow, but has now faded out.” Brigham queries the “outer rind” of the above quotation. Of the ribbed specimens included in this book (VIII, XIII, XXIII, XXVI, and XXX) none appears to have been originally dyed yellow and then to have faded; all of these, and especially XXIII, seem to contain stiff, woody fibres which are cut at right angles by the ribs or ridges produced by a coarsely grooved beater. It seems possible that they may be made of the whole, or very slightly scraped, bark.

  1. Plain white, like III, but with the layers closely felted. It may be Tahitian or Hawaiian. It is clearly not the No. 9 of the CATALOGUE. As compared with II,_ it is of a softer consistency, less closely compacted.

“10. From ditto. But somewhat finer.” Brigham: “Tahiti. White, thick and soft;” this would be applicable to II or IX. The CATALOGUE observation is more appropriate to X, which may in fact be the original No. 10.

  1. An extremely delicate and gauzelike but stiff, papery example of beautiful workmanship. Probably Tahitian, and possibly the original No. 10 or 11. The beater is fine hoopai.

“11. From ditto; ditto, but of a stronger consistency.” Brigham: ” Tahiti. A strong, hoopai specimen of stiff, thin, white kapa “—an exact description of X.

  1. Yellow, fine, not quite so stiff as X. The beater is a not very fine hoopai halua. Probably Tahitian.

“12. From ditto; very fine, and dyed with fine yellow juice.” Brigham: “Tahiti? Soft, yellow, and from the beat, which seems to be mole halua pupu, I should attribute it to Hawaii.” This may be XI, the beater used on which was simply cross hatched with not very close groovings at right angles. There are only occasional and quite irregular compactions of the tissues such as would be due to the use of a beater having pupu or pits in the middle of the small squares formed by the groovings.

  1. A fairly thick papery tapa of two (partly three) layers, with a printed design. The surface is, so far as can be judged from the specimen, divided into rectangles by heavy dark brown lines. These compartments are filled with impressions in lighter reddish brown, not very well defined, of straight lines and of loops. It is from Tonga.

“13. From ditto; used in religious ceremonies.” Brigham: ” Tahiti. Yellowish, with a zigzag pattern painted in brown; a very small fragment.” This may refer to XXVIII.

  1. This is unpainted tapa of precisely the same kind as VIII. It contains five ties or stitches made, apparently, with narrow strips of tapa and forming a quincunx.

So far as appears from Dr. Brigham’s text, he accepts the order of the specimens in their arrangement in his copy of the CATALOGUE as corresponding to that of the printed list. It is by this time abundantly clear that that is far from being the case in the copy we are considering. In no instance is it possible to identify a given piece of tapa from the list, which does not aim at description in most cases. When it does, this is so vague as to be useless. The singularity of the stitched or tied pieces, whether the device is structural or merely ornamental, seems to point to the employment of this kind of tapa for a special, perhaps religious or ceremonial, purpose. The only allusion to what may have been a similar peculiarity that I have been able to discover refers to Easter Island. This is a short passage in Cook’s Journal of his Second Voyage, Vol. i, p. 290: ” Their [the Easter Islanders’] clothing is a piece or two of quilted cloth about six feet by four, or a mat.” But these ribbed tapas are, I think, undoubtedly Tahitian; and XIII may be the Tahitian cloth “used in religious ceremonies” which the compiler lists as No. 13.

“14. From ditto; used in the mourning dresses.” Brigham: “Tahiti. Quite like a kind made by the Hawaiians. Beat hoopai pawehe; grey on under side, dark brown on upper marked with darker parallel lines.”

XIV is an interesting example of an effort to produce artificially a decorative effect similar to a result probably only incidentally decorative and obtained by more laborious means as in XXIV and XXV, which are instances of a process of manufacture reported from Tahiti in 1796-98. “When the brown cloth is worn out they bark the branches of the breadfruit, and mix the old brown cloth with the new bark, beating them together, which makes a mottled piece: this they dip in a light yellow prepared from the root of a shrub called nano, which gives it a beautiful appearance” [Voyage of the Duff, quoted by Brigham, p. 27]. But this method was also followed in Hawaii. “If beaten together with red bits [of kapa] the kapa is called paiula ” [Davida Malo’s “Antiquities,” Cap. XVI, Par. 7, quoted by Brigham, p. 49. See also Brigham, PL 35 and descriptive note]. XIV is a soft tapa, with a well defined maka upena beat. On a yellow ground there are large irregular blotches of dark brown, and smaller, also irregular, markings of light red. The brown blotches go through the tapa, which is thin and would be easily penetrated by a heavy pigment or stain. The fainter red markings, evidently of a dye of lighter consistency, evaporating more readily, have passed through only here and there and only to a small degree. The brown and the red were applied to opposite surfaces of the material. From the impression of the beater and the fact that red appears here in imitation of the composite cloth, the making of which the Hawaiian Malo refers to, there seems to be little doubt that this cloth is from Hawaii, and is not therefore the No. 14 of the CATALOGUE (Plate I, 6).

“15. From. ditto: used at the human sacrifice.” Brigham: “Tahiti. A thick, soft kapa originally dyed yellow and stamped red with end of a bambu, Fig. 7.” Dr. Brigham also remarks here, “the Tahitians did not have human sacrifices.” His first remark applies to XXXVIII. With regard to his second observation it would seem to be sufficiently refuted by various passages from the published works of the earliest European visitors to Tahiti. Bougainville took away with him from the island a native from whom he received a certain amount of information on the subject of Tahitian customs. In John Reinhold Forster’s translation (1772) of Bougainville’s Voyage round the World the following passage occurs.

“What we understand with certainty [as to their religion] is, that when the moon has a certain aspect, which they call Malama Tamai, or moon in state of war (an aspect in which we have not been able to distinguish any characteristic mark, by which it could be defined), they sacrifice human victims” [pp. 255, 256]. Bougainville’s voyage occupied the years 1766-1769.

Cook (III, ii, 30ff.), who calls attention to Bougainville’s statement, has a circumstantial account, covering several pages, of the ceremonies attending human sacrifices in Tahiti, in which the following passages occur. ” In the morning of the 1st of September a messenger arrived from [Towha] to acquaint Otoo, that he had killed a man to be sacrificed to the Eatooa, to implore the assistance of the god against Eimeo. This act of worship was to be performed at the great Morai at Attahooroo. . . The unhappy victim offered to be the object of their worship upon this occasion . . . as we were told, was . . . one of the lowest class of the people. But . . . I could not learn, that he had been pitched upon, on account of any particular crime, committed by him, meriting death. It is certain, however, that they generally make choice of such guilty persons for their sacrifices; or else of common, low, fellows,” vagrants. Cook witnessed the ceremonies which he proceeds to describe in September, 1777.

According to Ellis (Polynesian Researches, i, 276 ff.) a whole series of such sacrifices was offered on the outbreak of hostilities to Oro or others of the gods of war. The three passages agree in relating this ceremonial bloodshed to a state of war. Ellis’s work includes information obtained by himself and others intimately associated with the Society Islands during the first thirty years of the last century.

XV is a thin rather papery tapa with well defined markings, which cannot be clearly seen unless the specimen is held up against the light. They are of a curious meshlike appearance produced by a beater which was apparently a variety of halua makes upena similar to Brigham’s Figs. 36 and 37, Nos. 19 and 20. This tapa is Hawaiian (Plate I, 4)

“16. From Sandwich island [Hawaii]; the dye the same as number nine, laid on with a small reed in the hand.” Brigham: “Hawaiian. A thick, opaque, dark brown.” Referring to the above description he says “that number is not of the same color even allowing for fading.” The CATALOGUE may refer to XX, XXXIX, or XLIII.

XVI is a soft tapa of two layers decorated with heavy stamped black lines and cross hatching. If this specimen was added to the original selection by a later collector, as some of these pieces may have been, it may be Fijian, to judge from the character of the decoration. On the other hand, Fijian culture has been greatly influenced by that of Tonga; and it must also be borne in mind that, though Cook did not visit the Fijian islands, he might easily have received from the Tongans a gift of Fijian cloth obtained by them in trade. The printing of tapa with clearly defined rectilinear designs from a carefully carved die reached its greatest perfection in Fiji. In view of all these facts it is not possible to decide whether or not the cloth from which this sample was taken was collected in Tonga (Plate I, 1) .

“17. From Otaheite; beat with a grooved piece of wood, and used as a mat.” Brigham: “Tahiti. White and ribbed like corduroy.” These observations may refer to either XXVI or XIII, but that concerning use as a mat probably not to the painted ribbed Tahitian tapas, VIII, XXIII, and XXVII. All Polynesian tapa is “beat with a grooved piece of wood.” The single reference in the list to this fact makes it probable that the compiler had in mind these heavily ribbed specimens, the evidence of the use of a grooved beater on them being so plain.

XVII is a very fine tapa of close texture, thin and soft, dyed brown. The marks of a closely, sharply ridged hoopai beater are beautifully defined. It corresponds closely to a specimen in the Academy of Natural Sciences, ANS 10519, which was cut from an example in the Bishop Museum of Honolulu, No. 2495.

“18. The very finest of the inner coat of the mulberry; and wore by the chiefs of Otaheite. Some of the seamen were sent ashore to bring fresh provisions on board; and not having an opportunity to return immediately, one of them wandered a little way up the country, where he saw some children at play, which to his surprise they all left, and surrounded him, making many antic gestures; at last a girl, about fourteen years of age, made a leap at him, at the same time endeavoured to seize a few red feathers which he had stuck in his cap, which he directly took out and presented her; upon which she made off with amazing swiftness, and the rest after her; he then returned to his companions, who were preparing to go on board. It was now the cool of the evening, when she came down to the waterside, and singling him out from the rest, presented him the piece of cloth from which this was cut. A true sign of gratitude in those people.” Dr. Brigham identifies this with “a very fine white hoopai” of Tahiti.

XVIII is a stiff papery brownish yellow cloth with dark red or magenta stripes, either painted freehand or carelessly ruled. It may be Tahitian.

“19. Made out of old cloth for bedding to the common people.” Dr. Brigham’s comment, “a brown, thin, hoopai fabric,” of Tahiti, “soft and suitable” seems to refer to a cloth like XVII, though one would think that to be rather too delicate to be suitable for the purpose named by the compiler. XIX, which is stained and dirty, is quite soft enough to be suitable. It was originally white and closely resembles II, III, and IX. It may be either Hawaiian or Tahitian.

“20. From Sandwich island, and grooved with a piece of wood.” This is the second and only other case in which the compiler refers to the mark of the beater on the tapa. Brigham comments: ” Of fine white texture pepehi grooved.”

XX is stained dark brown on the upper of the two layers of which it is composed. The colour has soaked through the second layer. It has been glazed or waterproofed; and so far as this quality is concerned may be referred to any one of the CATALOGUE numbers 1, 5, 7, 24, or 33, as there is no definite mark by which it can certainly be referred to one of the three localities, New Amsterdam (Tongatabu), Sandwich Island (Hawaii), Otaheite (Tahiti).

“21. From Otaheite; it was not fully completed.” Brigham: ” Tahiti. A thin white kapa, ruled in black. The pattern was like Pl. 34, 2.” The reference is to Ka Hana Kapa, in which is figured a design similar to XVI. It appears to be a typical example of tapa decoration of the Tonga-Fiji-Samoa region.

XXI is a Tongan tapa of three thin layers stamped in brown, like XII.

“22. From Sandwich island; finely manufactured.” Brigham: “Hawaiian. Fine thin kapa ruled in black with broader lines in alaea red.” This is applicable to XXXIV, IV or VII. XXII is a fine white tapa, Hawaiian or Tahitian, like X, XXXI, XL, and XLII.

“23. From ditto; wore by the priests.” Brigham: “Hawaiian. The fragment (now half its former size) is too small to make out the pattern painted in red and black upon a thick leathery kapa, ribbed on the reverse. The general character is shown in Pl. S, 1, left-half.” Plate S, 1 (Ka Hana Kapa) shows, in the designated half a pattern of small grill like chequered squares (black on white), outlined in red. In two places this outline is thickened along two adjacent sides of contiguous squares, so that two heavy diagonal zigzags are formed across the panel. The middle of the zigzag is picked out with a serpentine white line. None of the pieces of tapa considered here has any such design. XXIII is a brown ribbed tapa of rather brittle fibre. Reference has already been made to it under VIII.

“24. From ditto; wore by the young women, and oiled over to resist water.” Brigham: “Hawaiian. Thin mole mahuna kapa.”

XXIV and XXV have already been referred to under XIV. Both are extremely fine tapas beaten to the thinness of tissue paper. XXIV is white, XXV light canary colour. They are probably Tahitian.

“25. An undergarment; sometimes used for ornament; dye the same as before.” Probably “dye” means the oiling referred to under 24. ” Similar in texture to the last but marked with dark red stripes,” according to Dr. Brigham.

“26. From Owyhee [Hawaii], used as ornaments upon their canoes.” Brigham:
“Hawaiian. Thick white (probably once yellow or pink) with a texture like chamois leather.”

XXVI has been mentioned above under VIII and 9. There is no reason to suppose that it was “once yellow or pink,” but its texture might possibly be described as being like chamois leather.”

“27. From Otaheite; used by the chiefs for sitting on.” Brigham: ” Tahiti. White, poorly beaten and fibrous but soft.”

  1. In Ka Hana Kapa, on p. 106, Dr. Brigham speaks of “a thick fluted Tahitian tapa, which is painted red on the under side. . . . The upper side is painted with nearly black zigzags on a light brown ground; the markings are on alternate flutings.” This description almost exactly suits XXVII, with the exceptions that the “light brown ground” was probably originally white, and the zigzags “on the alternate flutings” are here thick straight lines. It is pasted in the book so that the red side is the upper. This is probably the cloth described in the Voyage of the Duff (quoted in Brigham, p. 27): “after being half worn it may be dyed brown [? brownish red, as here], and lined with white, by pasting two cloths together.” The layers are easily distinguishable.

“28. Used as a sash, and under garments for the dancers at Otaheite.” Brigham: “Tahitian. Thin, white, papery with irregular brown blotches.” This is undoubtedly XXIV, so far as Dr. Brigham’s description is concerned. The compiler’s account of its use would also be applicable. It resembles the fine tapa worn as turbans by the Fijians.

XXVIII is a very small sample of stiff, fairly thick tapa. The decoration consists of wavy red stripes between groups of black, perhaps ruled, lines. It is Hawaiian (Plate II, 2).

“29. The same as twenty-five, but rather smaller stripes.” Brigham: “Hawaiian. Kapa mahuna with lines in groups of three.”

XXIX consists of three layers printed in brown with broad stripes arranged in lozenges suggesting an imitation of basketry or matting. It shows traces of glazing or waterproofing. It is probably a Tongan tapa.

“30. From Owyhie, a covering for the common people.” Brigham : ” Hawaiian. A thick feltlike kapa of several layers, loosely beaten together; white, slightly smeared with red on one side.” II, IX, and XIX might answer to this description. XIX has two faint pink blotches on one side.

  1. See VIII and 9. The ribs or ridges are somewhat less regular in this example. There are two ” stitches ” or knots. The original bright red dye has faded in streaks. Tahitian (Plate I, 2).

“31. The same as number three, but coarser.” Brigham: “Hawaiian. Soft mole kapa resembling No. 3, but with finer dark lines in threes with wider red parallel lines and four finer red crossing at a slight angle. For the general effect see Pl. H, 2. A number of samples of this style were in Cook’s collection.” There is no example of this decoration in the Museum’s copy of the book.

XXXI is like X but softer. In the latter respect it resembles XLII, while XL has the stiffness of X. These delicate tapas with the fine diagonal hoopai lining may be either Tahitian or Hawaiian.

“32. From Otaheite, wore by the chiefs going to war.” Brigham: “Tahitian. Rather soft, white with a slight red smear on one side.” As to its being a war garment of the chiefs he remarks “probably as malo,” i. e. as loin cloth.

XXXII is a fine white tapa like X and XL. The impress of the beater shows the ridges running vertically, but this may be due to the manner in which the sample was cut.

“33. From New Amsterdam, wore by the common people; no rain will penetrate it.” Brigham: ” Tongatabu. A coarse, loosely beaten kapa varnished with red on one side. It closely resembles Samoan siapo.” If for red we put reddish brown, this description might very well refer to XXXIX.

XXXIII is brown, of a stiff, papery consistency, and is very carefully ruled, on the side pasted down, with groups of three straight lines in darker reddish brown. These show somewhat faintly on that side, and still more so on the other, being there hardly visible until the cloth is held up to the light. It is probably Hawaiian.

“34. From Otaheite, wore as garments by the ladies.—A number of natives being on board of the Resolution, one of the chiefs took a particular liking to an old blunt iron, which lay upon one of the officer’s chests, and taking hold of a boy about nine years of age, offered him in exchange, pointing to the iron. The gentleman, although he knew he could not keep the youth, yet willing to see if he would willingly stay, or if any of the rest would claim him, took the child and gave the savage the iron; upon which a woman, who appeared rather young for the mother, sprung from the other side of the ship, and with the highest emotions of grief seemed to bewail the loss of the infant: but the lieutenant, with a true British spirit, took him by the hand and presented him to her, upon which, after putting her hands twice upon her head, she unbound the roll of cloth which was round her body, and from which this specimen was cut, and having spread it before him, seized the boy, and jumping into the sea both swam ashore, nor could he ever learn whether she was the mother, sister or relation, and this he lamented the more, as such affection was very seldom seen among those people.” Brigham: “Tahiti. A thick coarse, ribbed cloth painted in triangular patterns of orange, red, brown, with black dividing lines. So far as the diminutive specimen shows the design, it was gaudy rather than artistic.” With certain qualifications, this description of Dr. Brig-ham’s seems applicable to XXXVII, as will be seen.

XXXIV resembles IV and VII, except that the red stripe is solid. The first two, and possibly this also, may have been cut from the same piece of tapa.

“35. From the Friendly Islands, and presented to Mr. King, the colours the same as before described.” Nos. 1 and 33 are stated to be from Tongatabu, which is one of the Friendly Islands (Tongan group), but in neither of these cases is there any mention of colour. Mr. King was Cook’s lieutenant, who wrote the third volume of Voyage III containing an account of the tragedy in the Hawaiian Islands which closed the great explorer’s career. Brigham: ” Tongan. A well made hoopai kapa apparently white or cream colour although the catalogue refers to it as coloured.”

XXXV is a thin, papery tapa painted with alternate stripes of brown and yellow. The beater was a coarse hoopai or a pepehi. It may be either Tahitian or Hawaiian (Plate II, 4).

“36. From Otaheite ; wore by the priests.—The piece of cloth from which this specimen was cut was presented the aforesaid lieutenant, by one of the priests of Owyhee, who seemed to be a very intelligent person, and most readily apprehended the manner of using most of the instruments he saw on board, and could handle them with a surprising familiarity after once seeing. He seldom came on board without some present, and appeared to have a true sense of honour. And the above gentleman thinks that he would have been a far superior object to have brought to England than Omai.” Dr. Brigham adds nothing to this but the comment, “a good hoopai kapa.”

XXXVI is a thick tapa of three layers. On a white ground are painted sparse red spots and pairs of small black strokes so arranged that four red spots or four pairs of black strokes together with, respectively, one pair of black strokes or one red spot form a quincunx. This crude pattern is figured in Brigham, Pl. W, 1. The tapa is Hawaiian (Plate I, 8).

“37. From New Amsterdam; common, but very durable.” Brigham: ” Tongatabu. A coarse, durable kapa stamped brown with the upete.” XII and XXI are examples of such Tongan tapa.

XXXVII is perhaps a sample of the cloth referred to by Dr. Brigham in his comments on 34. The design, so far as it can be seen on the small specimen, consists of a series of identical rhomboids in line, each divided in half diagonally. One of the triangles thus formed is coloured orange yellow, the other black and brick red, these latter two bits of colour being separated by a white line which was perhaps ideally intended to be a perpendicular dropped from the apex of the particoloured triangle, but, if so, falls short of the aim in the two such figures which are completely shown. The beater, which has left a remarkably well-defined impression, was a konane, to use a Hawaiian term for the implement used in making what Dr. Brigham considers a Tahitian product (Plate II, 3).

“38. From Otaheite ; wore by the young dancers of both sexes.” Brigham: ” Thin, white, papery cloth. Tahitian.” This may refer to X, XXXI, XXXII, XL, or XLII. According to Ellis [Polynesian Researches, i, 216] a part of the costume worn by dancers of the hura, who were chiefs’ daughters, consisted of “fine white stiffened cloth, frequently edged with a scarlet border, gathered like a large frill, passed under the arms,” and reaching “below the waist.”

XXXVIIISee under 15; and Brigham, p. 21 and Fig. 7 (Plate I, 5).

“39. A fine specimen of the lace bark, from Jamaica, bought at the Duchess of Portland’s sale. N. B. Of Alexander Shaw “—for whom the CATALOGUE was “properly arranged and printed “—” No. 379, Strand, London, may be had some fine specimens of the tree, with the bark.” This Nota Bene is printed as a colophon, together with the FINIS which is the last printed word in the book; all the text precedes the specimens, which, however “properly arranged” in the first place, are now, as we have seen, in disagreement with this list.
It is possible that III may be, in fact, not a portion of a Hawaiian kapa moe, but several distinct pieces of Jamaica lace bark.

XXXIX has been referred to under 33, and XL, together with XLII, under 38.

XLI is of a dark dirty brown, evidently the natural colour of the bast, or perhaps of the whole bark, of which it appears in fact to have been made. The reverse has an exceedingly clear cut impress of a halua maka upena beater, or what would have been so called if the tapa were Hawaiian. It is probably Tahitian. Cook (I, ii, 210) has the following description of one of the varieties of the bark cloth of Tahiti.

“A third [kind of bark cloth is made] of the tree that resembles the fig [? Ficus prolixa], which is coarse and harsh and of the colour of the darkest brown paper: it . . . resists water . . . the greater part is perfumed, and worn by the chiefs as a morning dress.” The passage was taken by Hawkesworth, the editor of Voyage I, almost verbatim from Banks’s Journal [Ed. Hooker, pp. 145-146].

XLIII is a Hawaiian tapa made in two layers, which have become separated; it shows traces of waterproofing. A crude design consisting of stripes of a darker brown than that of the ground forms the only decoration. At the upper edge of the specimen the stripes change their direction from vertical to oblique, producing a result resembling the “bent knee pattern” of Fig. 125, p. 207, of Ka Hana Kapa.

H. U. H.

1 As to Warren Hastings in the capacity of “the support of science,” it may be recalled that he was a promoter, if not the founder, of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal; that emissaries of his visited Tibet and the interior of Cochin China; that he caused aa survey to be made of the shores of the Red Sea. He was greatly interested in raising the intellectual standard required for employment in the Indian Civil Service (or, as it was then, the service of the East India Company), and a project formed by him looking to that end resulted in the founding of Haileybury College at a later date. He also at one time formed a plan for endowing a professorship of Persian either at Oxford or at his proposed seminary for “Indian civilians.”

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Hall, Henry Usher. "A Book of Tapa." The Museum Journal XII, no. 1 (March, 1921): 9-29. Accessed July 15, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/journal/885/

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