Barkcloth in Aotearoa New Zealand
Art Historical Description
The limited scholarship on barkcloth manufacture in Aotearoa emphasizes the fact that all bast species in the Moraceae family are essentially tropical in their distribution. Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) cannot survive outdoors in temperate New Zealand, and those Ficus prolixa (banyan) trees growing in the archipelago today are Asiatic varieties introduced by pakeha (European) settlers in the 19th century – as is also the case in Hawai‘i; its figs were too large for bird-transmission across such large distances of open water. Aute (Broussonetia papyrifera, paper mulberry) is the hardiest of the Moraceae, and Maori settlers from Rarotonga found they could cultivate small stocks of it in the subtropical climate of Northland; the tools and methodology of manufacture remained essentially Cook Islands Maori. Aute therefore retained its cultural significance between the 13th and 18th centuries, and the earliest western images show Maori wearing small rolled quills of tapa in their ear piercings. In a very real sense, however, it was the failure of the tapa fabric species to adapt to a temperate climate which led the Maori to further develop their Rarotongan inheritance of fine fibre arts and featherwork – leading to the remarkable art of kakahu cloaks.
dry-pulled cortex stripping; long retting bast soak; fermentation; initial beating – wooden anvil and square beater; fusing composition; linear beater marking; crossed linear beater marking; immersion dyeing; hand painting
Characteristic Fabric Types
Entry created on 28 August 2020