Tapa making is one of the most common heard sounds in Tonga, and a big part of Tongan culture. Its rhythmic sounds of women making Tapa is heard from morning till night, through out all the villages of Eua and Tonga.
It is used for gifts at weddings and funerals, as clothes, blankets, dancing costumes and so much more. It is also used as currency and a piece of Tapa 50ft -100 foot long can be worth over $1500 U.S.
Tapa is made from the inside bark of the mulberry tree. The bark is stripped from the branches after it has been left for a week in a shady place. The creamy coloured inside bark is then soaked in water for a few days to soften it.
Women making tapa background design
It is sat on a wide piece of wood off the ground called a tutua and pounded with a wooden mallet called an ike.
A strip of bark say 2 inches wide will be pounded into a paper thin foot wide piece, of course this takes several days . These foot wide pieces are then stuck together by using glue made from verus root crops such as tapioca. These sheets when stuck together can reach 50ft -wide and 100ft long.
Then it's time for the large sheets to have designs put on them.
The first design to be imprinted onto the tapa is the background which is done by a group of women.
The pounded, glued large sheet is put on the design table called a papa koka’anga. This is a large, low, convex table like structure with the design ( kupesi ) being imprinted on it. the spine of a coconut frond called niu tui, is glued to the top end. Women sit on either side of the table, one side feeds the blank Tapa cloth to the women the other side who rub rub the cloth with a dye made from mangrove, using rag which leave the imprint of the background design which is imprint by the coconut spine, much like the way a brass rubbing is made.
After the back ground image is completed, the Tapa is left outside in the sun to dry completely. Then the women get together and paint designs on the Tapa. The dye used for this come form the Koka tree bark and roots.
Women painting Tapa