Ngatu, tapa, barkcloth.

Ngatu, barkcloth. Light brown base pattern created with dye rubbing technique. Overpainted with dark brown to form grid; each section has a royal emblem including the lion, the coat of arms, and Norfolk pines. Plain edges painted with section numbers.
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This extraordinary ngatū (barkcloth) from Tonga was donated to Puke Ariki in 1972 by Mrs M. Jury. As you might be able to guess, the motifs honour the Tongan monarchy, which was established by constitution in 1875. At that time paramount chief Tupou Tāufa’āhau took the name George I (reign 1845 – 1893).
On this cloth there is the Tongan coat of arms – Sila ‘o Tonga, eagles symbolising aristocracy, British royal lions, and Norfolk pines. The pines represent Hala Paini, the pathway to the royal palace in Nuku’alofa on the island of Tongatapu. While Tonga was a British Protectorate from 1900 to 1970, the nation was never a colony and is proudly independent.
Ngatū is a major art form in the islands and in Tongan communities in Aotearoa-New Zealand. Women work together to make the cloth using ike (beaters), and then the cloth is rubbed with dye, over design tablets known as kupesi. The pattern may be made bolder or embellished with overpainting, sometimes using a pandanus key brush.
Huge quantities of barkcloth are made for ceremonial occasions such as coronations, when the ngatū is laid out as a kind of red carpet for dignitaries to walk along. Afterwards the cloth is divided up and gifted to honoured guests. Puke Ariki has several large ngatū which have been donated to the Museum by Taranaki families who have spent time in Tonga.
Text by Natasha McKinney, Curator, 3/8/2022
Neich, R. & Pendergrast, M., 1997. Pacific Tapa. Auckland, N.Z., David Bateman; Auckland Museum.
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