Barkcloth in Vanuatu

Melanesia > Eastern Melanesia > Vanuatu

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

Art Historical Description

Ni-Vanuatu barkcloth has a more restrained character in its use of colour and materials than either the Solomon Islands to the west or Fiji to the east. Nonetheless, the Ficus prolixa nemas-itse cloaks of Erromango are magnificent paintings in an ochreous palette, which have received sadly little attention by Pacific art historians, and share deep compositional affinities with certain styles of both New Guinean and northern Aboriginal Australian painting. The barkcloth belts of Tanna, conversely, offer a strongly geometric monochrome scheme in a number of arresting colours.


  • Speiser, F. (1996[1923]). Ethnology of Vanuatu: an early twentieth century study. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press
  • Huffman, K. (1996). The ‘decorated cloth’ from the ‘Island of Good Yams’: barkcloth in Vanuatu, with special reference to Erromango. In: J. Bonnemaison, K. Huffman, C. Kaufmann and D. Tyron, eds. Arts of Vanuatu. Bathurst: Crawford House Publishing: 129-40


Outline map of Vanuatu (credit: The World Factbook 2020. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2020)
Outline map of Vanuatu

Making Barkcloth

Characteristic Materials

Characteristic Techniques

Characteristic Fabric Types


Entry created on 28 August 2020