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Tongan Tapa Wall Art


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Tongan Ngatu. Each is a work of art. Each is a unique handicraft. No two are the same.

Hand painted Tongan ngatu, or tapa as it is known in English, is a labor intensive process that starts with the cultivation and eventual harvesting of the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree (hiapo). Traditionally, tapa making is done by groups of women working in teams. After cleaning and preparing the strips of inner bark, they are pounded with a wooden mallet (ike) on a wooden convex anvil (tutua).

From there, the strips are glued together using a paste made from tapioca root or arrow root. Two or more layers of the cloth are pasted together crosswise to strengthen the material.

With the cloth laying on top of the tutua and patterned rubbing blocks called kupesi, brown pigment made from the bark of the koka tree is rubbed across the patterns. The rubbed in patterns will be later painted in a free-hand style by outlining with brown and black dye with paint brushes made from the dry pandanus fruit.

Motifs vary from abstract to pictorial and sometimes include text in the border of the design. Uses, both ancient and modern, include clothing, costumes, wedding gifts, births, funerals, and traditional ceremonies.

Approx. sizes

British Royal Lion/Honu - 18"x16"

Hala Paini - 18"x14"

Honu (Mango Dye) - 19"x15"

Aristocratic Eagle/Honu - 18"x16"