How to make a Tongan Tapa

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Wikipedia svg logo-en.svg  Tapa cloth
Tapa cloth (or simply tapa) is a bark cloth made in the islands of the Pacific Ocean, primarily in Tonga and Samoa, but as far afield as Java, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Hawaii. In French Polynesia it has nearly disappeared, except for some villages in the Marquesas.

This extract is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. It uses material from the article "Tapa cloth", retrieved 12 August 2008.

First of all I have to grow a tiny tree namely Hiapo for the number I would like to have. I will look after that for not less than 2 years. When its skin goes white then I will harvest them. Then I would leave them in the shade for almost two weeks. Then I would take the skin off from a hard stick in its middle. Then with the skin I will take the outer skin and it will leave me with a white stuff called the la'i tutu. I will keep all of those tutu in rolls of twenty pieces. Then when I am ready to beat those pieces. I will first put one roll in a bucket of cold water to make it soft to be beaten. I will then get a big log namely "tutua" and then beat it up with a small stick called "ike".

When that piece is soft enough,I would hang it up on wire to make it dry. Then from that I could mend small holes that may appear on that piece of tapa. I would do the same to all the pieces then I would stick them together using flour orTongan tapioca which is already smashed and squeezed then boil it and become glue or sticky stuff to be used. Then I would ask some women about 12 or 14 and we could process the making of the tapa using red liquid from koka plant and also the 'umea or tongo. We also use a pattern that I want to be shown on the tapa. When it's finished then we would take the whole tapa outside in the sun to be dried. When it's dried,then we would fold it into a bed sized large. Put it on a flat area like the floor so that someone would lie on it to make it smooth. After a month or so I could take it outside to a hall or an area like that for the next work to be done to that is what we called "Tohi Ngatu". With that one I would boil the red liquid "koka" or "tongo" to be in black, then I would use a small "fa" as a pen to draw the pattern or design on the tapa.When it's finished then dry it again then fold it and putin the bed ready to be used.

The tapa then can be used for so many occassions,that is,

  • 1. in weddings.
  • 2. in funerals.
  • 3. in birthdays.
  • 4. in celebrating special events such as with school results of members of the family.
  • 5. decorations for feasts and big occassions e.g. Coronation
  • 6. dancing costumes.
  • 7. can be used for prizes in feasts for somebody who danced beautifully, that person can be the chief or a relative of
      yours or it is just the performance of that particular person that you admire most.


 1.  The Growing of the  "Hiapo".
 2.  Harvesting of the "Hiapo".
 3.  Beating of the "Hiapo".
 4.  Making Tapa "Koka'anga"
 5.  Designing of Tapa "Tohi Ngatu"
 6.  Uses of Tapa in our Tongan Culture.

                                   LESSON  1  :   THE  GROWING  OF  THE HIAPO

Icon objectives.jpg
At the end of this lesson the children should be able to:
  • identify the parts of the hiapo that is to be grown.
  • name the good type of hiapo to be grown.
  • observe how to prepare the piece of land for the hiapo to be grown.

  • ready parts of the hiapo to be grown "afu"
  • right type is the ones which has the torn leaves {afu}
  • a hoe, a spade and a fork .
  • already ploughed piece of land.
  • Take the class to the piece of land. If the piece of land is not yet ploughed then use the hoe to clean the area with.
   Dig one or two holes for the class to see.  Then let them do what you did.
  • Get the "afu" one by one and put one into each hole until the ready made area is covered with the plants that you have
   been grown.
  • Make sure that the plants inside the holes are very tight by informing the class to stand on that particular spot so that
   the plant is fixed to its position.
  • Inform them that if the piece of land is too sunny after the plants been grown then they have to put something in order
   to give it a shade.

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