Tapa: Situating Pacific Barkcloth in Time and Place

Home > Participants > Prof Adrienne Kaeppler

Curator (Oceania), National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, USA. Co-Investigator


I have been working with Polynesian barkcloth for many years. I first learned to make barkcloth in Tonga when I was a Ph.D. student working with the old ladies who furnished the necessary ngatu for the life events of their families. I had the support of Queen Salote, who kept me informed and helped me to learn about all the cultural traditions and ceremonies during which barkcloth was an important part. In the following years (during my research on Cook's voyages) I sought out information on barkcloth in museums around the world and continued fieldwork in various island groups. Along the way I learned a great deal about designs, history and uses, as well as the problems of taking care of barkcloth, and I wrote several articles on the subject. In 1970 I curated the exhibition "Bark Cloth of the Pacific," probably the first exhibition that focused entirely on barkcloth, which was held at the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu. My latest project, since 2012, is “Transforming our Understanding of Polynesian Barkcloth through the Integration of History, Culture, Conservation, Community Scholars, and Materials Analysis," which focuses on the Polynesian barkcloth from the United States Exploring Expedition (1838-1842).