In tropical Polynesia the loom was not used and the principal material for clothing and bedding was bark cloth, generally known by the Tahitian term, tapa. This was, and in many parts of Western Polynesia still is, made by women from strips of the inner bark of the paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera), which were soaked, beaten with wood mallets and then felted or gummed together to form large sheets of varying texture.
Decorated tapa was used as special ‘seats’, ‘beds’, clothing, wrappings and shrouds for ceremonies connected with birth, marriage and death and for other important rituals. The designs were applied by a variety of methods and are often distinctive and attributable to particular island groups (see Kooijman, 1972). However, the precise origin of this fragile and ﬁne-textured example is not easy to identify, though the star designs, foliate border and reddish chevron background (produced by rubbing on a design tablet) point to a Western Polynesian origin, possibly Futuna, Uvea, Samoa or Niue (cf. Brigham, 1911 : pl. 17). This cloth has suffered some damp staining and a previous owner has restored damaged areas with bark cloth patches, coloured appropriately.
Steven Hooper, 1997
Entry taken from Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection, Vol. 2: Pacific, African and Native North American Art, edited by Steven Hooper (Yale University Press, 1997) p. 38.