Making tapa, Samoan style 

Tapa is made in many islands. Although the islands are scattered across the Pacific, the basic steps in tapa making are the same everywhere. Here, Toto'a Fagai from Vaito'omuli village in Samoa is making siapo (Samoan tapa).

1. Toto'a bites around the bark of an u'a (paper mulberry) sapling to free the bark for stripping.

Toto'a Fagai freeing the bark, Vaito'omuli, Samoa
© Te Papa 

2. After separating the inner and outer bark, she flattens the inner bark.

Toto'a Fagai flattening the inner bark, Vaito'omuli, Samoa
© Te Papa

3. She cleans the inner bark with a shell scraper, using a sloping board for support.

MA_CT.003697; Toto'a Fagai scraping the inner bark
© Te Papa

 4. With an i'e (tapa beater), she beats the bast (narrow strip of scaped inner bark).

Toto'a Fagai beating the bast
© Te Papa

5. Eventually, the bast becomes a wide piece of fine cloth.

Toto'a Fagai and the bark strip
© Te Papa

 6. Toto'a carefully patches any holes in the cloth.

Toto'a Fagai patching the holes
© Te Papa

7. She uses an 'upeti (rubbing board) to reproduce a design on the cloth.

Outlining the design with the 'upeti
© Te Papa

8. The finished siapo is laid out to dry.

 The finished siapo is laid out to dry
© Te Papa