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Kuo Hina `e Hiapo: The mulberry is white and ready to harvest

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Kuo Hina E Hiapo: The Mulberry is White and Ready for Harvest
Tapa felt or ngatu as it is called in Tonga, is cloth made from the bark of Broussonetia papyrifera. The inner bark is beaten into fine sheets and painted using traditional designs. After centuries of use, ngatu has literally become the fabric of Tongan society. In Tonga and throughout much of Polynesia, bark felt has deep symbolic and ceremonial use. At birth, babies are swaddled in it. At marriage, newlyweds line their wedding bed with it, and at death, the departed are buried wrapped in it. This episode investigates the highly collaborative process of making ngatu and the organizations of women who carry on with the tradition. While the process continues to be passed on from generation to generation, there are signs of change as a cash economy begins to infiltrate Tongan life. Young people show less interest in such labor intensive endeavors in the face of the older generation's belief that this tradition will never die.

Production Credits

Presented by:

  • Melinda Ostraff

Permission to use from:

  • Melinda and Joseph Ostraff


Abbott, I.A. 1992. La'au Hawai'i: Traditional Hawaiian Uses Of Plants. Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu. Pages 49-58

Balick, M. & P.Cox. 1996. Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany. Scientific American, New York. Pages 99-143

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