Cunningham Gallery

19th Century Polynesian Tonga / Samoa Wood Tapa Beater

$575.00 USD
South Pacific, Polynesia, Tonga or Samoa, ca. late 19th to early 20th century CE. An attractive, hand-carved wooden tapa beater presenting a tubular handle and an elongated, 4-sided body that flares outwards to a gently pointed head. Boasting a natural woodgrain surface in a hue of chocolate brown, the fine implement features 5 to 7 incised, vertical striations on 3 faces of the body, which are intended to evenly flatten the fibers of the tapa bark used for creating textiles. Tapa cloths are traditionally made by beating the inner bark of mulberry or similar trees until it is soft and pliable, and then painted using a palette of naturally occurring pigments. This example is a solid, elegant tool that was used to create true works of art. Size: 11.7" L x 2.4" W (29.7 cm x 6.1 cm)

Tapa is a particular kind of bark cloth that is made in the South Pacific Islands. The cloth is of great social importance and is often given as a gift; however, prior to the introduction of synthetic fabrics, it was also used for everyday wear. The process for making it is complex and almost ritualistic. First, the paper mulberry tree is cut, the bark is stripped, and the inner bark retained and sun dried, then soaked. After this, the bark is beaten using a tool like this one. The sound of the tapa being beaten creates a rhythmic musical backdrop as the work is being done. The strips are then beaten together using plant starch to form a large sheet; the edges of the sheet are then trimmed using a knife or sharp shell. Finally, the tapa sheet is beautifully painted using stencils made from coconut.

cf. Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa Tongarewa), registration number FE002974.

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