These stunning abstract designs, hand printed onto handmade paper, have been created in the Polynesian island cultures since ancient times mainly by women who use this medium as an artistic way of self expression I first came across this paper whilst browsing in a Polynesian theme Universal Studio shop and was intrigued by the bold patterns and softness of the thick hand made paper. Although extremely expensive I had to buy a sheet and resolved to find out more on my return home.
They grow their own paper mulberry trees nearby, and strip the
bark from the inner bast. This is beaten with wooden beaters on an anvil and in earlier times seashells were used to scrape of the residue bark, until it has spread out and become supple.
It is left to dry outside. Natural dyes from trees and plants are used. The juice from the bark of the 'o'a tree gives a reddish brown colour, burning the nuts of the canlenut tree gives a soot, used as a black dye and the roots of the tumeric gives yellow dye. Red ochre is grated over the barkcloth surface and rubbed into the fibres.
Complex patterns are built up from design tablets which are now carved into wood. Earlier they were made by sewing pieces of coconut midrib, bamboo
shoots and sennit in patterns on to a rectangle of pandanus leaves then tied to a board for the rubbing process.
This produced fine intricate patterns designed by the women, based on natural motifs such as breadfruit leaves,pandanus leaves and blooms, fishnet,trochus shell,starfish , worm centipede and footprints of birds. Period lettering of names and places have also been incorporated in these unique designs
The sheet of paper is laid over the tablets and rubbed with a pad dipped in 'o'a dye, which
transfers the pattern through the tapa. Elaborate freehand painting is sometimes used to finish it off, and some kinds are intricately cut out and fringed