Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place

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New Barkcloth Research at the ESfO Conference 2017

10th July 2017


Kew EBC Museum

At the start of July, Kew’s Mark Nesbitt and I attended the 2017 conference of the European Society for Oceanists (ESfO) at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in the beautiful city of Munich, to present our ongoing barkcloth research. At Kew Gardens, Mark curates over 60,000 plant-derived objects from all over the world, and he spoke first about the role that such economic botany collections have historically played in the preservation of traditional ecological knowledge. Kew played an instrumental role in defining the model for economic botany museums around the world, and Mark discussed a number of botanical collectors and British naval personnel who made the long journey out to the central Pacific. By exploring the collections of barkcloth, basketry and woodcarvings these scientists sent to Kew when they returned home, Mark showed how we can continue to glean important information from these historical collections about the social history of the Pacific, and humanity’s complex relationship with the plant world.

Andy Wonu Discussing


The following day, I convened a panel on ‘Barkcloth in Pacific Environments’ with Dr Fanny Wonu Veys of the Museum Volkenkunde, the Dutch National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden. Wonu and I were delighted at the response to our call for papers, and we were privileged to hear from some of the leading European and North American names in the field of barkcloth research.

Anna Karina Hermkens

Anna-Karina Hermkens provided us with a national overview of Papua New Guinea’s many barkcloth traditions in both Broussonetia papyrifera and Ficus prolixa, while Pierre Lemonnier focused in on the significance of Ficus prolixa barkcloth cloaks in coming-of-age ceremonies among the Anga of southwestern Morobe Province.


Lamont Lindstrom took us out into Vanuatu with a discussion of Tanna men’s Ficus barkcloth belts, and then I reviewed the state of our knowledge about the use of secondary barkcloth species in Polynesia - i.e. those not composed of Broussonetia, which are frequently wild or (like Breadfruit) primarily cultivated for other reasons. Wonu Veys closed the panel with a discussion of colour-classifications and production methods for Tongan barkcloth pigments. Many of these papers directly, or indirectly, addressed the key research questions of this project, aiming to increase of our knowledge of the core fabrics, dyes and pigments involved in Pacific barkcloth production, and we aim to publish completed versions of these papers next year.  



Other recent news items:

Barkcloth Basics: Interpreting and Understanding Pacific Barkcloth
13th January 2020
An exciting, upcoming workshop which aims to raise the awareness, skills and understanding of Pacific barkcloth for museum staff  More >

Registration open for the Recent Advances in Barkcloth Conservation Symposium
16th October 2018
Presenting diverse approaches to understanding the making, conservation and display of barkcloth in several tropical regions  More >

Call for Papers: Conservation of Barkcloth Material
10th July 2018
Invitation for submissions for a one day symposium on the conservation of barkcloth from any part of the world  More >

Student Blog: Volunteering for the Barkcloth Workshop
19th June 2018
Four students describe their experiences participating in the three day event  More >

Research Studentship Working on the Barkcloth Project
12th June 2018
Experience from Jennifer Brunton who embarked on a recent research studentship  More >

Barkcloth workshops and visiting practitioners from American Samoa
18th April 2018
There have been exciting developments for the barkcloth project team recently – at the end of March we hosted a visit from two bar  More >

Tapa symposium at Auckland War Memorial Museum
8th January 2018
Andy Mills and Frances Lennard spent two weeks in New Zealand in October  More >

Two-Day Workshop at the Bishop Museum, Honolulu
29th November 2017
"Caring for Tapa" workshop will take place at the Bishop Museum in partnership with the project  More >

Work at the Kew Archives is Producing Some Fascinating Insights
5th July 2017
The project's historical researcher Andy Mills has been delving into the archives of the UK's national botanical gardens at Kew  More >