Map of Tonga in the South Pacific

Map of Tonga in the South Pacific

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Tapa cloth

April 16, 2011

Tapa Painting at Langafonua

What an opportunity—to learn from Tongans who practice the craft of tapa cloth  making and painting. When I heard about the class for palangi (foreigners, European descent) at Langafonua, I knew I wanted to attend. Langafonua is a handicraft center that sells Tongan-made crafts, as well as giving demonstrations and preserving the culture.

Tapa cloths are traditionally very large—50 feet long, and have been given for special gifts, such as for weddings and funerals.

There were 6 of us taking the class on Saturday morning. The instructors first told us about tapa, how it is made from the bark of the mulberry tree that is soaked and pounded into sheets. We learned that the red clay that is used to rub over the tapa to show the pattern on the board underneath, which is only found on ‘Eua. The boards with the traditional patterns they had were made from the wood of the ironwood tree. Tapa has two pieces of tapa (One is just the backing, with no design.), one glued to the other with partially cooked manioke root. As Jim said, it’s like a big glue stick.

They demonstrated and taught us, and then gave us each a small piece of tapa ready for painting. The black paint comes from the bark of the mangrove tree, and we used the dried flower of a variety of pandanus for a paintbrush.  We each came away with our own small tapa. Right now, mine is under the mattress for further flattening, just as they suggested.

A traditionally-made tapa cloth.

I probably didn’t explain it very well. Perhaps these photos will help.
Rubbing on the pattern from the board underneath. Notice the fabric in the background that has been rubbed with tapa designs.

A modern tapa design. Used for borders and small pieces. Notice the rubbed pieces underneath, ready for painting.

The brush we used to apply paint to the rubbed design.

Beginning to paint.
My attempt at tapa painting.

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