This piece of Hawaiian kapa (Hawaiian barkcloth), with three other similar pieces, are part of a small but important group of Pacific textiles presented to the Dominion Museum (Te Papa's predecessor) by the trustees of Alexander Turnbull's estate after his death. A note in the museum's register at the time indicates that at least some of these textiles were collected during the Pacific voyages of eighteenth-century English explorer James Cook. However, the Cook provenance is so far unproven.
Early examplesA large amount of kapa was collected by members of Cook's third voyage (1776-1780). Much was cut up into small pieces, which were often pasted or bound into books. The four pieces from the Turnbull collection are large compared with most known examples. They are typical of kapa collected on Cook's third voyage, which is significantly different from later Hawaiian kapa. All four pieces reflect the eighteenth-century Hawaiian practice of stitching pieces of plain barkcloth together to make much larger pieces before applying the decoration. In each case there is a neat seam on the underside.
UsageKapa was used for three types of clothing: men's loincloths, women's skirts (which were sometimes wrapped many times around the body), and capes or cloaks which, at a distance, rivalled the beauty of the more valuable feathered cloaks. Kapa was also used as room dividers or decorations in houses. As in other parts of Polynesia, it formed part of ceremonial presentations; some was even formally presented to Cook.