Samoan Tapa Cloth

This tapa cloth, or bark cloth, was made in Samoa in the early 20th century. Cloth made from bark in the Pacific Islands is often referred to as “tapa” or “tapa cloth” even though each region has its own name a technique for processing bark into cloth. Captain Cook was first introduced to bark cloth in Tahiti and the Cook Islands, and so he popularized the use of the Tahitian word for bark cloth as the name of this category of material in general.

People in Samoa usually make bark cloth out of the ipuah and tarok trees. Branches or thin trunks are cut into approximately 1 meter lengths. After they have been soaked in water overnight they are beaten with wooden beaters until the bark is loose. The cloth maker then slices the bark lengthwise and carefully pulls the bark off of the log in one whole piece. Then the cloth maker separates the inner and outer bark by slicing and pulling them apart. The cloth maker beats the inner bark until it smooths and stretches, folding and continually beating the cloth as it expands. It takes at least 6 hours of this pounding to make bark cloth that is suitably soft enough to make clothing. Finally, the cloth is unfolded, soaked, and wrung out.

This technique had been mostly been abandoned, but during World War II the scarcity of cloth and thread led many people to return to old methods of making bark cloth so they could make needed clothing.

Circa: Early 20th century

Origin: Samoa

Material: Bark cloth

Condition: Good. Some thin areas and a hole at center along folding lines.

Dimensions: 64" x 54"

Inventory number: TX4412



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