Bark clothing

Clothing has been made from bark sheet and bark fibre by peoples of the Northwest Coast of North America, the Ainu nation of Hokkaido in northern Japan, and groups in Melanesia and Africa.

There are three items of Ainu costume in the North Pacific Rim case and belts made of bark in the Melanesia case. On the Canadian west coast, cedar bark is prepared, split into strips and woven into capes, blankets, rain ponchos, waistcoats and is also used to decorate masks. The cape (number 9) was made on a frame of uprights with a rope stretched between them, the twining work proceeding from the top down. For information on the location of items made of bark in the World Cultures gallery, see the Uses of Bark gallery guide, nearby.

Costume made from barkcloth was and is more widespread, occurring sporadically in South America, Africa, and South East Asia as well as throughout the major Pacific Island groups. In Tahiti, barkcloth clothing was worn by all social classes at the time of first contact with Europeans in the late 18th century, although it had ceased to be worn by 1850.

The nobility wore it in many forms and on all occasions. Several layers were often worn, with a cloak (number 47) over the top. Ponchos were worn in many islands of Central and Western Polynesia. The poncho, a sleeveless tunic coming to the knees, with a headhole, was a high status item, whether worn on its own (as in the examples from the Cook Islands, number 50, and Uvea, number 93, or as part of the elaborate mourning costume from Tahiti in the Polynesia case. More recently barkcloth has been made into European items of clothing such as skirts (number 103).

In Africa this use of barkcloth has continued to the present, particularly in Uganda. The female costume is a busuti, based on a late 19th century European costume (number 123). The more traditional clothing is a loosely wrapped cloak worn by both men and women (number 124). Today European style shirts of barkcloth are worn by men as well as many cotton prints based on barkcloth designs.