Prof. Friedrich Ratzel

The Races of Oceania

Dress, Weapons and Implements Of The Polynesians And Micronesians

Bark cloth - Tapa - Mats

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Bark cloth - Tapa - Mats

The Polynesians belong to the better-clad races; they have advanced far beyond the point of mere covering and gone in the direction of luxury. For this reason their bark stuffs, tapa [manufacture] and gnatu, and their mats form the largest and most valuable part of their property; in some districts mats are a recognised form of currency. In many cases a skirt is worn girt about the waist and falling to the feet; the Tahitian women used to wear a cloth over their shoulders with an opening for the head in the middle, and, in addition, a skirt made of finer stuff. Both sexes wore another cloth wound turban fashion round the head. In the Friendly Islands the dress was simpler; the skirt of the men was twisted up in a great bunch behind often very short; that of the women tied below the breast, and as a rule not accompanied by the cape. Similarly in Samoa and the neighbouring islands the dress of men and women consists of a piece of cotton cloth wound round the hips and reaching to the knee; leaves are frequently employed for the same purpose.

Pattern of Polynesian Tapa

Pattern of Polynesian Tapa (From Cook's collection in the ethnographical Museum, Vienna.)
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Pattern of Polynesian Tapa

In wet weather the bark cloth is often replaced by a mantle of long broad leaves which hang down in a fringe; on solemn and festive occasions the natives put on a fine mat of plaited fibre. The inhabitants of the eastward islands are scantily clothed. The Easter Islanders, when first seen by Forster, were either quite naked or with an inadequate apron hanging from the girdle. In the Society Islands, on the contrary, the luxury of clothing acquires a symbolical significance. The war-clothes there consist of three poncho-like garments put on one over another: the undermost a long white one, over that a red, and outside all a short brown one. A dense envelopment of the whole body in as many cloths as possible stands for a sign of a peaceful reception.

Woman of the Society Islands

Woman of the Society Islands (From photograph in the Dammara Album)

In the time of Cook and Forster the Tahitian dancing-girls wore a piece of brown stuff closely wrapped round the breast. About the hips was a pad of four layers of cloth, one upon another, alternately red and white, bound close with a cord whence a mass of white cloth hung to the feet. The dress of the New Zealanders consisted of skirt and mats; these were fastened on the right shoulder in men, on the left in women, the men wearing in addition a flax belt from which hung the mere and battle-axe. Head and feet remained as a rule uncovered, though some tribes on the middle island had flax sandals.

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