Tapa Cloth, Tahiti, and Ancient Story

Tapa Cloth is a cloth specific to the south pacific which has a history and story that is rich throughout time. One story that is related to the “bounty” and the mutiny that directed the ship back to Tahiti goes something like this: A surgeon aboard the ship documented their arrival to Tahiti. An entourage of women who followed the leaders of the community aboard the ship, were wrapped in layers and layers of tapa cloth. The entourage of women were bounded in tapa cloth so fully, that they had to be hoisted onto the ship. There, they danced for hours, and unfurled the tapa cloth in such a way, that the captain of the ship was then bounded in the cloth as a form of gift giving, and welcoming. Tapa cloth, is sacred to the communities and cultures of the south pacific. In many communities, it is created by the group, rather than the individual. It is made from the bark of the mulberry tree, and is pounded, beaten, dyed, and dried in the sun.

Since most of the sailors and all of the Tahitian men were killed within a few years of settlement, much of the Pitcairner’s culture came from the Tahitian women, until more regular contact with Europeans was established after 1814. While John Adams, the last surviving mutineer, forcibly encouraged the use of English, and taught everyone in the ways of the Bible, the basic domestic tools and functioning of the island were being run by the women in the ways that they knew. One of the most visible signs of this influence was the manufacture and use of traditional Polynesian tapa cloth for loincloths and skirts.

Tapa Cloth, Tahiti, and the Ancient story still exists today, and can be explored by looking at the beautiful designs and processes that are a part of many south pacific islands. Pitcairn is one of the places where the descendants of the bounty’s mutineers exist, and they are a thread to the ancient stories that connect us to Tapa cloth and its meaning. To read the full article about the remants of a lost civilization, go here.


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