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Falevai Moe Famili

human history
  • Other Name

    'Falevai and Family' (translation)

    Ngatu (Tongan)

    Bark cloth (English)

  • Description

    'Falevai Moe Famili' (Falevai and Family) is a Ngatu (barkcloth) printed with ink and acrylic. The design is crafted from seven kupesi (printing blocks) printed in six repetitions along the horizontal axis in ten rows. Working from the outer edges inward are as follows. The outer borders are mirrored and consist of the ... (2018.36.10) and pig (2018.36.5) designs with white space below, followed by (mirrored/reflected) rows of the frangipani print (2018.36.

    3) with white space below toward a central panel of 'FALEVAI MOE FAMILI' (Falevai and Family, 2018.36.1) and 'SIO PE KA KUO IAA' ('Look only but its sunny' proverb, 2018.36.9), the harbour view pattern (2018.36.8) and family design (2018.36.2) at the centre.

  • Place
  • Accession Number
  • Accession Date
    14 Aug 2018
  • Department
2018.35.1, Falevai Moe Famili, ngatu, Collection of Auckland… … Read more

Images and documents



  • Credit Line
    Collection of Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, 2108.35.1, © Sulieti Fieme'a Burrows and Tui Emma Gillies
  • Public Access Text

    Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows and her daughter Tui-Emma Gillies returned to Falevai, Tonga, a village where Sulieti was born. They went with the intention of sourcing bark-cloth there and creating two large works. They arrived in Falevai to discover that the paper mulberry was no longer grown and bark-cloth had not been made there in over 30 years. So Sulieti set about teaching the women of Falevai to grow paper mulberry and care for it through the growing process.

    The tree doesn’t set seed, so cuttings have to be made, developed and planted. Sulieti went to Nukualofa, Tonga, to purchase sheets of undyed bark-cloth (tapa) and returned to Falevai to further teach the women the traditional method of pasting sheets together and the traditional decorating method Tonga bark-cloth.

    Tui Gillies designed new kupesi (patterned rubbing boards), which were used in the decoration of these two pieces of bark-cloth. The kupesi are non-traditional of design, material and subject matter. For example the kupesi for Falevai Moe Famili includes anthropomorphic figures, chickens, wharf and pigs; tailor’s lining was used for the base (instead of the traditional palm spathe) however, the patterns were made as traditionally with coconut palm mid-rib, though attached to the base with commercial twine. The kupesi are being gifted along with the purchase of the barkcloth.

    Tongan ngatu making in Tonga goes back a millennia, and as such has rigid ideals and set of named patterns that primarily focuses on the Tongan monarchy. Sulieti Burrows in collaboration with her daughter, Tui Gillies, show a new level of innovation and sophistication that few apply to traditional barkcloth making. As well as teaching the men and women in Falevai to grow and beat the barkcloth, Sulieti also showed the women how to create traditional patterned rubbing boards. Walking around the village Sulieti also spied a rubbing work bench, koka’anga in an abandoned house. Sulieti believes this work bench to be over a hundred years old. Sulieti had the bench removed from the house, and lashed woven mats over the working surface of the koka’anga, this helped strengthen it to take the kupesi, patterned rubbing boards. The kupesi are then laid out according to the makers’ aesthetic tastes and lashed to the koka’anga. The koka’anga is usually long enough to pattern a sheet of barkcloth across its entire width. Once one set of patterns have been rubbed the barkcloth is moved over the kupesi just enough to align the next set of patterns alongside the previous rubbings. Once the entire barkcloth has had the patterns rubbed on, the final over painting in darker brown and coloured areas are over-painted.

    The innovation, history and renewal of tradition that surrounds the making and patterning of these ngatu make these highly significant ngatu.

  • Cultural Origin
  • Primary Maker

     Sulieti Burrows (Maker)

     Tui Gillies (Maker)

  • Place
  • Date
  • Period
  • Media/Materials
  • Measurement Description
    Measurements approximately 7.35m x 4.5m
  • Measurement Reading

    4500mm (approximate)

    7350mm (approximate)

  • Subject Category
  • Classification
  • Last Update
    21 Jan 2022

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