Spectacular cloth made from tree bark: sounds like an innovation, but it’s a century old tradition
W IS FOR WALLIS AND FUTUNA
My partner once dressed as a forest spirit for Halloween, and we assembled his outfit from a store-bought Groot costume and a bunch of camo stuff that hunters use. However, were we to live in Wallis and Futuna, the two South Pacific islands still colonized by the French, we would be absolutely used to the fact that you can make cloth out of tree bark. Tapa, said cloth, is the most prominent art form on the island, and on others surrounding it, such as Fiji and Tonga. It’s made out of the bark of a species of mulberry tree, which makes me think that mulberries are the most awesome trees in the world: they give you silk, berries, AND cloth? They’re the cows of trees. The multitaskers. Once the cloth is ready, it’s dyed, smoked, drawn on, or stencilled, to make it either into clothes or artwork. Lately, with all the less woodsy fabrics available, the clothing component has been relayed mostly to big celebrations, but the art of making beautiful decorative tapas is alive and well, and shows the islanders’ incredible craftsmanship, as well as their feel for the sublime.
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