Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Sacred and Ceremonial Textiles: Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Chicago, Illinois, 1996. (Minneapolis, 1997).


Copyright 1996 by the author.


Masi or tapa is a traditional material which is made by the inhabitants of many of the islands in the Pacific region. This material is made from the bark of the young mulberry tree, which is soaked in water, beaten with mallets and formed into sheets. Mter drying, the Masi is decorated with traditional designs created by stencils, patterns and/or free-hand drawing. This documentary shows the process of Masi making as it is practiced on the "Garden Island" of Taveuni, Fiji. Each step is identified and explained in an English translation. The masi is made by the women of the Vanua of Bouma. (The Vanua is a group of landowners from 5 different villages within the region of Bouma.) Traditionally, masi was worn for ceremonial purposes by the Chiefs of the different villages. Masi is still used within the home as a blanket or mattress, and the accumulation of Masi is seen as a sign of wealth. Masi is also used for ceremonial purposes, and it is presented to dignitaries during special functions or celebrations. In the Kingdom of Tonga, the King often walks on masi carpets during official ceremonies. Masi is also used for funereal purposes.

As so often happens after contact with developed countries, this traditional "cloth" is being commoditized. Tapa is now being used for a variety of tourist souvenirs from postal cards to wall hangings. Some "entrepreneurs" are even applying traditional designs to stained cardboard creating quick, cheap, tapa imitations.