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Image Kapa (tapa), late 1700s

TLF ID R4419

This is a rectangular piece of kapa (tapa or barkcloth) from Hawai'i, cut from a larger piece. There is a seam where two pieces were sewn together before decorating, and a plain border at one end is part of the outer border of the original larger kapa. The hand-painted decoration, in rich orange and black, consists of tapering and expanding elongated wedges of geometric design, separated by plain borders. Each wedge in the central decoration is divided into two design zones by a narrow longitudinal line. It was made in the late 18th century and measures 129.0 cm x 63.5 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset is an example of kapa made using 18th century Hawaiian methods - usually created from wauke (paper mulberry plant), the manufacture was time-consuming and labour-intensive, involving the beating, fermenting and shaping of fibre; dyes were often brushed on.
  • It is an example of a form that was affected by European arrival - because of the time and effort required in its making, kapa was quickly replaced in modern Hawai'i by more easily made fabrics; however, the skills of manufacture have not been lost and small groups continue to make beautiful pieces today.
  • It is a reference to the voyages of the explorer Captain James Cook (1728-79) - this piece is one of four presented to the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa by the estate of Alexander Turnbull (1868-1918), a Wellington bibliophile and collector; it has been suggested the kapa was collected by Captain Cook in Hawai'i, and while this has not been proven, the patterns are typical of kapa that are known to have been collected by members of Cook's third expedition.
  • It is an example of an item that was used for clothing, such as wraparounds and shoulder capes - other uses depended on the social status and a person's place in Hawaiian society; kapa bed covers were reserved for the ali'i (chiefly caste), while kapa robes were used by the kahuna (priestly caste).
  • It is an item that has spiritual and mythological significance in Hawai'i - in the legend of Makuakaumana, the gods Ka-ne and Kanaloa feel pity for one of their worshippers shivering in a fierce storm of cold rain and so they teach him to make a kihei (shoulder cape); Hina, the mother of the demi-god Mäui, was a great kapa-maker, and it is said that she still spreads her kapa in the sky as beautiful clouds of all colours.

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements