Tapa, made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree (Broussentia papyrifera), is found across the Pacific. In Fiji, it is known as masi and is made exclusively by women. Masi is made by stripping the bark from the plant, separating the inner bark, and beating it with a wooden mallet, usually on a wooden anvil. The method of decoration differs from place to place, and has changed over the years. The different kinds of masi include masi kesa (stencilled), masi kuvui (brown or smoked), seyavu (white or plain), and masi vakarerega (yellow). The different colours reflect a person's rank in society, with white or brown masi used by those of chiefly blood. The uses for masi are also very diverse.
DetailsThis example is a large sheet of masi folded in half with a sennit cord running along the fold. The patterns on the two sides are different, suggesting it was probably used as a room divider.
Many usesMasi are also used as garments, turbans, wall art, bedding, and ceremonial gifts. Smaller pieces are used as lamp wicks. Masi is made regularly in only a few parts of Fiji: Moce (Lau province in eastern Fiji) and Vatulele (Nadroga province in western Fiji). On other islands it is made according to the demands of local communities. Fijian masi was popular with collectors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, probably because of its bold geometric patterns. Te Papa's collection includes a number of striking examples.