Kautaha Koka‘anga (Tongan women’s barkcloth-making collective)
inner bark of hiapo (paper mulberry), black soot from the burned flesh of tuitui (candlenuts), red/brown pigment from the bark of the koka tree, ‘umea (red soil/clay)
6500 x 6040 mm
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Chartwell Gift Collection, 2013
07 May 2013
cloth, text, royalty, symbolism, symbols
Nimamea ‘a koka‘anga, the fine art of barkcloth making, is the artistic process involved in the creative production of Tongan ngatu (barkcloth). Tongan ngatu is divided into ngatu tāhina (white-marked barkcloth), and ngatu tā‘uli (black-marked barkcloth). The production of both ngatu involves the organisation of a kautaha koka‘anga (Tongan women’s barkcloth making collective), the preparation of wide strips of plain barkcloth, red and black dyes, and the construction of the papa koka‘anga (ngatu-making board), which is usually rounded on the surface. The cultivation of hiapo (paper mulberry plants) through to the preparation of finely beaten strips of bark and the actual production of ngatu is a long and labour-intensive process. The same effort applies to the preparation of sap from the bark of both koka and tongo trees as red and black dyes used in the production of both types of ngatu. A special kind of black dye is made from the black soot of the burned flesh of tuitui (candlenuts) for the production of ngatu tā‘uli. Ngatu tā‘uli were considered more chiefly and specifically reserved for the use of Tongan royalty and aristocracy. The lengthy process involved in making the natural black dye specifically for ngatu tā‘uli adds to its status.
The use of kupesi (pattern) in the production of ngatu tā‘uli is limited. This ngatu tā‘uli is predominantly black with three red lines running parallel across the surface. The red and black used are fundamental colours in Tongan art where they symbolise male and female respectively, so this is a female ngatu. Black and red vakatou (double-hulled canoe) kupesi decorate the white edges. At one end four garlands feature repeated text which reads ‘Koe Lei Mapa ‘O ‘Ofeina-‘Ehe-Langi’ – ‘A garland/necklace of sweet-scent mapa fruits of ‘Ofeina beloved by heaven.’ This is in reference to Her Royal Highness Princess Sinaitakala ‘Ofeina-‘Ehe-Langi, fourth daughter of His Royal Highness Prince Fatafehi Tu‘ipelehake, who was the third son of Her Majesty Queen Sālote Tupou III.
Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai, 2012