Pacific: Marquesas Islands and Cook Islands

Marquesas Islands

Marquesan barkcloth (hiapo) is made from paper mulberry, breadfruit and banyan, a fig species. The collection made by Jenny Balfour-Paul in February 2001 on Fatu Hiva, the most southerly and remote of the islands, includes pieces manufactured from each of these three species. The pieces show stages in the manufacturing process as well as examples of presentday designs.

Marquesan islanders have always preferred to decorate their bodies rather than the more perishable cloth. The modern designs produced on Fatu Hiva are deliberate copies of Marquesan tattoo illustrations taken from a book published in 1925-28. This is certainly borne out in these recent examples.

Beating the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, Omoa, Fatu Hiva. Photo by Jenny Balfour-Paul.

Beating the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, Omoa, Fatu Hiva. Photo by Jenny Balfour-Paul.

 

Cook Islands

The major soures of barkcloth were the high islands of Rarotonga, Mangaia and Aitutaki. At the time of the first European contact (1770s – 1820s), barkcloth was used as clothing, usually undecorated; a loincloth wraparound skirt, capes and ponchos (tiputa), probably introduced from the Society Islands.

The most ritually significant use of barkcloth was in connection with staff gods, which were wrapped in rectangular pieces of cloth with particular sets of design characteristics. These staffs were anything from 80cm to five metres in length, the cloth themselves up to 60 metres in length. The designs included enormously elongated animal figures, hand-painted lines of zig-zags, diamonds and sets of lines resembling brick work. The most important piece of cloth in the Exeter Museum collection, on display in the World Cultures gallery, and collected on Cook’s voyages is possibly an example of this form. Drawing of tattoo designs from ‘Die Marquesaner und ihre Kunst’ by Karl von den Steinen (Hacker Art Books, 1969). Beating the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, Omoa, Fatu Hiva. Photo by Jenny Balfour-Paul. Young Marquesan in February 2001 with a shoulder tattoo representing the eyes of a tiki figure. Photo by Jenny Balfour-Paul. Detail of large rectangle of decorated cloth with smooth white surface; probably made in the Cook Islands. Collected in 1772-4 by Captain Cook.