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Tongan women have a smashing time making tapa cloth Featured

Kaufo'ou Taulata is immensely proud of her Tongan heritage. On Saturday she joined 16 other Lower Hutt women to learn how to make tapa cloth. Kaufo'ou Taulata is immensely proud of her Tongan heritage. On Saturday she joined 16 other Lower Hutt women to learn how to make tapa cloth.

27 June, 2017. A group of Tongan women are using tapa cloth to reconnect with their culture.

The women, from the St John's Uniting Church in Avalon, are learning how to make the traditional cloth - an essential element in all Tongan ceremonies and events.

Kaufo'ou Taulata came to New Zealand when she was seven and, like a lot of New Zealand born or raised Tongans, is keen to maintain her culture.

Tapa is used in ceremonies such as weddings and christenings, as well as for wall displays and bedding.

On June 24 the 16 women and girls, were at Pomare School learning from older community members.

Olivia Small, 12, had the important job of smashing the bark to make it thinner

Taulata, who works as caregiver, said making tapa was a "spiritual" event for the women.

"We thought it was crucial to obtain the knowledge from them (the elders). No amount of videos or books would give us the same enjoyment as working with them."

Making tapa starts with sourcing long strips of mulberry bark that can be rolled into a coil. The bark is imported from Tonga and good quality bark is essential.

It is soaked in water and then flattened by being hammered on a wooden anvil.

Tapioca is used to bind the strips before traditional dyes and inks are used for the designs. A big pieces of tapa can be 100 metres long.

To make the whole process as authentic as possible, a special table was built.

One thing notably absent from the process was men.

Taulata said that was because the men have a special role. "The men are running around making kava to they can serenade us."

Making tapa has an advantage beyond linking the women to their heritage and culture.

Tapa is widely used by Tongans but for Kiwi Tongans, it comes with a hefty price tag, with a big piece costing as much $5000.

The group plan to meet regularly and Taulata said anyone was welcome to join them.

"This is a long project. The intention is to help develop each women to obtain a tapa cloth because they are very expensive."

By the end of the day Taulata could not hide her delight. "The kids loved it and it was a remarkable day of learning. It was just wonderful."

- Stuff

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