Hunterian Museum Collection, GLAHM E.417/8
Art Historical Description
One of the more interesting art-historical discoveries of the research project leading to this web resource, this fine sample of Tongan ngatu tahina is one of a small number of Hunterian objects which has a sibling-sample in the University of Göttingen’s collection (Oz.599); part of a set of objects which was given to that University by Johann Reinhold and Georg Forster, the father-and-son naturalists on James Cook’s second voyage of Pacific exploration. Although it has been suspected (with only circumstantial evidence) for some years, we can now say with certainty that William Hunter purchased a collection of Pacific art from the Forsters during the time all three men were in London together (between 1775 and 1780). This ngatu is therefore among the earliest set of art works collected in Tonga (during either of the second voyage’s two visits to Tonga, in 1773 and 1774).
Stylistically, it was produced with the typical Tongan composition method: Sheets of bast are pasted together at their edges into a supple, double-layered cloth, and rubbed over a set of intricately patterned kupesi rubbing tablets with koka juice. Taro paste seems to have been used here for the composition glue, as it has yellowed over the last 250 years. The kupesi patterns used here reward closer study, and include a range of motifs dominated by the ‘herringbone’ pattern ve‘etuli in a number of complex orientational chequers, the ‘vane-swastika’ motif manulua, and other aesthetic arrangements. The absence of hand-overpainting is also particularly notable, and seems to be a widespread feature of 18th-century ngatu tahina.
360cm (length) x 220cm (width) x 0.25-0.4mm (thickness)
Broussonetia papyrifera; Bischofia javanica; Colocasia esculenta
bark removal; pre-soaking; wet shell cortex stripping; short bast soak; initial beating – wooden anvil and square beater; pre-fusing; spreading and homogenisation; flat-faced beater smoothing; composition pasting at sheet edges; rubbed decoration; post-completion conditioning
Associated Fabric Types
Entry created on 28 August 2020