Tapa; 48.5" wide x 84" long. Made of processed tree bark and hand-painted with red and black abstract design. The following identifying information was provided by Franklin Seri: `Embobi' or woman's skirt; design is typical abstract old type design; made by Adi Nama of Dariri clan, Utaku Village, a Maisin woman approximately 22 years of age. He also said that the tapa has multiple values: as woman's skirt or blanket; as a gift (form of wealth)--status attached to giver of the largest or most tapa; as bride wealth; as woman's wealth; or to wrap a corpse. "The Maisin people live in nine villages along the shores of Collingwood Bay in northeastern Papua New Guinea. Until the early 1960s, the people made most of their own clothing from the beaten inner barks of several wild and one cultivated tree. Since that time, European cloth has become the common dress, but Maisin women continue to make designed tapa cloth. They wear it along with other tradtional decorations in local celebrations. They also give tapa cloth as a form of wealth in ceremonial exchanges and in trade with neighbouring peoples for clay cooking pots and for stringbags. Tapa cloth forms a very important part of Maisin cultural identity. Maisin cloths are recognized as the finest produced in Papua New Guinea. In recent years, the sale of tapa cloth in the tourist market has become an important source of income for people in the villages. The tapa cloth you see here was all manufactured from the inner bark of a fast growing, broad leaf tree called `wuwusi' in the Maisin language. The `wuwusi' propagates itself from seedlings growing up from the root system. During the dry season, when people are making new gardens, they routinely transplant `wuwusi' seedlings from old garden sites. The seedlings, which range from two to three metres in height, are planted among the taro, bananas, sweet potatoes, and other crops. As the trees take root and produce new seedlings from their bases, the owners of the garden routinely break off any twigs that appear on the lower two metres of the trunk. This is to prevent holes from forming when the bark is beaten. The `wuwusi' tree is usually ready to be beaten after two years. Although both men and women plant and cultivate `wuwusi', the process of making the cloth is traditionally women's work. When she sees that the bark of a tapa tree is beginning to split slightly, the owner cuts it down with a bush knife. She scrapes off the thin outer bark with a knife, makes a vertical cut through the inner bark, and then pries off the piece. The `wuwusi' strip is usually about two metres long, with its width varying according to the age of the tree. The end of the bark piece is now placed over a large flattened log, called a `fo'. The woman then begins to beat the bark diagonally with the sharp edge of a light black palm mallet, called a `fisiga'. The bark will spread only if it is beaten across the grain and if it is kept moist with water. The woman beats the cloth on both sides, end to end, and then folds it in half and beats both sides again. During this stage, the fibers in the bark are softened, but not much spreading takes place. The woman now discards the `fisiga' for a heavier blunt-edged black palm mallet, called a `fo'. She double folds the bark strip and then folds it inward five or six times from the narrowest end. She now pounds the thickly folded cloth with the edge of the `fo', working from the middle to the edges. The bark quickly and visibly spreads. The tapa is unfolded by one layer and pounded again. This continues until the cloth is back at the thickness of four layers. The folds are then readjusted so as to focus the beating on the narrowest part of the tapa. The process is repeated until the woman is satisfied with the width, thickness and evenness of the cloth. The cloth is then unfolded and hung to dry in a well shaded area. A strip of bark measuring about 13 by 126 cm. will yield a cloth measuring around 54 by 107 cm. A cloth of that size takes about an hour to beat. The dried white cloth is folded and placed within pandanus sleeping mats where it is flattened by the weight of the sleeper's body. It is then trimmed, usually with a knife, and decorated. The women use only natural dyes in designing the cloths. The black `mii' used in making the outlines is a mixture of the young leaves of the `wayangu' creeper, crushed charcoal from coconut husks, a little clay and water. It is applied with a brush made with the shaved end of a white palm twig. The red `dun' is made from the cooked mixture of the leaves of the `dun' tree and the bark of the saman tree. It is applied with the thick fibrous end of small, dried pandanus fruits. Young Maisin girls learn to make tapa cloth informally by watching their mothers and then practicing by beating and designing their own small pieces. Most family lines own one or more tapa designs. These the women learn by copying older pieces, until the designs are committed to memory. The vast majority of designs, however, are created by each woman as she applies her brush to the cloth. They are, for the most part, non-representational. Thus, the women are encouraged to be innovative. The only limits to their creativity are their imaginations and manual skills. The women make two basic types of tapa cloth: the long narrow `koefi', used as a loin cloth by the men; and the wide `embobi', the women's wrap around skirt. In recent years, tapa has also come to be used for wall hangings, place mats, table tops and purses. The information on the process of making tapa was developed by Franklin Seri and John Barker for a tapa exhibit at the Burke Museum, Seattle, and was also used at the exhibit `Jumping Lines; Maisin Art and Rainforest Conservation' which opened on April 18, 1995, University Art Museum, Berkeley, California. John Barker was a consultant for the Pacific Regional Documentation Project and did field work among the Maisin. Franklin Seri is a Maisin representative of the Maisin Tapa Business Group, from Uiaku, Papua New Guinea, who came to the United States to attend the exhibit opening and to develop a market for tapa in the United States. John and Franklin then spent one - two months in Bellingham, Washington, returning to the Oakland Museum to view the collections in late July, 1985. This is one of two tapas purchased by the Museum: one tapa (95.43.1) was purchased at the `Jumping Lines' exhibit opening; this tapa was purchased when John and Franklin viewed the collections--Franklin personally selected the tapa for the museum collection. For further information on the exhibit and the Maisin Tapa business group refer to the donor file.

Used: made for sale | Gift | Bride wealth | Woman's wealth

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