ngatu (Tapa Cloth)

About this object

History of use

Barkcloth, commonly known as tapa, is one of the most distinctive products of the diverse cultures of the Pacific Islands. The name is derived from the Samoan word tapa, which means the undecorated edge of a piece of barkcloth, and the Hawaiian word kapa, a variety of barkcloth. Tapa was probably brought to the Pacific Islands thousands of years ago by the ancestors. No important occasion is complete without the presence of tapa, and those who make it continue to generate techniques and designs that serve both utilitarian and ceremonial purposes.


The tapa was given to the Millars in the centennial year in Tonga. Made for them by the wife of a government driver. Nuku'alofa is a seaport and the site of the royal palace (built in 1867).

Iconographic meaning

Design represents the relationship between church and state in Tonga. Tonga has a state church - Wesleyan Methodist.

Physical description

Large rectangular tapa cloth with handpainted designs in light and dark brown on natural coloured ground. In the centre are ‘X’ motifs, flanked on each side by church-like buildings and surrounded by stars and dots. Towards the ends are forest scenes. Each end has four squares, some containing numbers to show where cuts are made during special ceremonies.