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Pacific Islanders Culture: The Tapa

History of a tapa

Clothing plays a major role in the molding of a society’s culture. Through this, one can identify the way of life of a given society. The tapa is among the clothes that have been in the pacific islands since the nineteenth century. It is basically a bark cloth that is extracted from the paper mulberry’s inner bark. The beating of the bark is done using beaters with varying gauges of grooves. At the beginning, the beater with the coarsest groove is used and this progresses until finally a beater with the finest groove is used. Research shows that tapas originate from many different cultures and people. For example, the Chinese are known to have had the knowledge of tapa making which was passed on to other communities during the migrations where the craft spread and was adopted in East Indonesia (Neich et al 2.)

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It’s material

Several aspects of tapa show the culture of pacific islanders. To begin with, the material used for making this cloth gives a hint that these people were gatherers. Apart from the mulberry tree which is mainly used and preferred in the pacific islands, tapa can also be obtained from the breadfruit and wild fig trees. Their cultural sense of wealth is also evidenced in the motifs on the cloth. The tapa is embroidered with motifs from plants and animals and sometimes beads can be used to show sophistication or a person’s degree of wealth. The tapa itself brings about an aura of tangible and intangible pacific culture due to the symbols woven in them in the form of a particular event. For example, certain symbols are stenciled in the garments formed and are used during different occasions such as weddings, funerals and other traditional celebrations. The materials made in ancient times are gathered and put in museums where they help to facilitate events such as the “the festival of pacific arts” which helps to bring together the people from these regions and give them a feeling of the ‘pacifians’ thus reinforcing their culture. (Perkins, par. 4)

Tapa and the cultural ceremonies

By referring to the tapas, one can also realize that these people were fishermen. Tapas were mostly used in making loincloths that were used by men and adorned during the construction of canoes. Samples of tapas put together serve to convey different messages that bring about the traditional and cultural heritage of the pacific people. As pointed out in this essay, they showed their artistic inclination and also helped in the identification of ceremonies. By focusing on various methods of production and designing labels on the tapas one cannot help but notice that they not only represent artistic or historical ideas but a combination of both which merge to bring about a sense of pacific cultural heritage to the pacifians (Perkins, Par 5)

Tapa and westernization

With the onset of westernization in the pacific islands, most of the symbols and designing elements took on a new look with the women who embroidered these patterns moving in step with westernization. The art of making these tapas served to show both diversity in tradition and culture and also it brought the people of the pacific in common unity. This points out that tapas indicated the presence of two cultures within the pacific islands. First, the designs that were original to their culture and later westernized designs indicating the entrance of the western culture. (Colchester, par. 4)


Through these findings, it can clearly be seen that clothing does serve and plays a vital role in the pacific island’s culture. In this case, the tapa shows evidence that even though history and changing times, the pacific community is still in the union as indicated by the one cultural activity; the art of making garments from the bark of trees. From this cultural activity, one can have a clear picture of what the culture of the pacific islanders is and was like.

Works Cited

Colchester, C. Clothing the Pacific. 2003. Web.

Neich Roger, Pendergrast, Mick and Pfeiffer, krzysztoff. Pacific Tapa. Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press, 2004.

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Perkins, Hannah. Talking Tapa. Queensland University Technology. 2009. Web.

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