Rapa Nui

Barkcloth in Rapa Nui

Polynesia > Eastern Polynesia > Rapa Nui

Map of Oceania highlighting the location of Rapa Nui (© Pacific Peoples' Partnership; edited to add location overlay)
Map of Oceania highlighting the location of Rapa Nui (© Pacific Peoples’ Partnership; edited to add location overlay)

Art Historical Description

Tender mahute (paper mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera) was grown on Easter Island in natural hollows with circular dry-stone windbreaks built up around them to offer shelter from the wind. It represented the only fabric species available to the people of Rapa Nui, and seems to have been in fairly short supply. Settled from the Marquesas Islands, the production technique of Rapa Nui tapa was largely the same as the earlier stages of Marquesan manufacture, using a stone anvil and round-sectioned beater to unify the bast strips. The coarse mahute barkcloth produced was used for loincloths and capes for both men and women, and an extremely rare class of anthropomorphic images (manu uru) where a painted barkcloth skin is shaped over an armature of reeds.

References

  • Metraux, A. (1940). Ethnology of Easter Island. Hawaiʻi: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, 161. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press
  • Kjellgren, E. (2001). Splendid isolation: art of Easter Island. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Images

Outline map of Rapa Nui (copyright OpenStreetMap contributors; licensed under CC-BY SA 2.0; map tile edited to add scale overlay)
Outline map of Rapa Nui (© OpenStreetMap contributors; map tile edited to add scale overlay)

Making Barkcloth

Characteristic Materials

Characteristic Techniques

initial beating – stone anvil and round beater; fusing composition; linear beater marking; immersion dyeing; hand painting

Characteristic Fabric Types

Version

Entry created on 28 August 2020