Bark cloth, or tapa, is not a woven material, but made from bark that has been softened through a process of soaking and beating. The inner bark is taken from several types of trees or shrubs, often mulberry and fig, and designs are applied with paints and vegetable dyes of light brown, red, and black. Bark cloth is manufactured for everyday needs such as room dividers, clothing, and floor mats, as well as ceremonial uses in weddings and funerals.
Though there are a variety of local names, the word tapa, originally from Tahiti, is commonly used to refer to bark cloth made all over the world. The Museum of Natural and Cultural History tapa cloth collection includes about 40 tapas primarily from Polynesia, including the islands of Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, and Tahiti. While tapa cloth is most often recognized as a Polynesian craft, it has also been made in South America, Indonesia, New Guinea, Melanesia, and parts of Africa; the museum’s collection includes tapas from Congo and Mozambique. The examples shown here reflect the varied designs and colors represented in the museum's holdings, from bold geometric patterns to detailed, stylized floral motifs. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.