Tapa (kapa in some regions) is the bark cloth commonly found in the Pacific islands. Polynesians decorated the tapa with geometric and repeated patterns. While cotton and other textiles have replaced tapa for apparel, Polynesians do still wear tapa for special occasions, such as weddings. They do continue to use tapa cloth as floor coverings, blankets, and room dividers.
While the tapa isn’t in everyday use anymore, the patterns endure. And the colours have expanded beyond the traditional blacks and browns.
See for example this tea towel I picked up at the gift shop of Iolani Palace. Neither tapa cloth, nor black and brown, nor apparel, but more definitely inspired by the ancient traditions.
On my tea towel you can see the two repeated patterns. In red is the pineapple pattern and in green the ulu, or breadfruit.
As much as I love to see pure tradition carry on, I also love to see how people and cultures evolve, keeping what is important and modifying it for current needs. It gives me hope that we don’t have to sacrifice what makes us special on the altar of modernity.
This post is part of our month-long exploration into Polynesian Christmas traditions and inspirations. See the whole collection of activities and discoveries here.