This hiapo is a form of decorated barkcloth from Niue. Little is known of pre-nineteenth-century forms of Niuean cloth, but we do know that in the 1830s, Samoan methods of making barkcloth were introduced to Niue by Samoan missionaries. Consequently, the patterns and motifs on Niuean hiapo from mid nineteenth century are often indistinguishable from Samoan pieces of the same period.
Materials and decoration
This hiapo is made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. It has been decorated with freehand drawn motifs quite distinctive from later styles. In the 1880s, hiapo became notable for a new style of fine freehand decoration. Comprising intricate line work and detailed motifs based on various species of plants, a distinctly Niuean iconography developed. Some scholars believe that many hiapo from this period were made by a single small community on Niue. They make this claim on the basis of a continuity of style and motifs, and the recurrence of particular peoples' names on signed pieces of hiapo.
This hiapo was collected by Cecil George Savile Fuljambe, First Earl of Liverpool, on 29 June 1865. He recorded in his diary: 'I had some calico and fishhooks, and buttons with me, so I exchanged them for a fan, and some tapa or native cloth, which is made from the bark of paper mulberry.' This hiapo does not display the detailed freehand work of the 1880s, but among its crosshatched lines it bears several carefully scrawled signatures. These names offer the smallest connection to the people who may have made it, and an insight into an art form that had disappeared from Niuean cultural life by the early 1900s.