Growing collections that connect with the communities of Tāmaki Makaurau is important gahua (work) here at the Museum. Adding items that can provide connection and inspiration relating to akau magafoa (genealogy), vagahau Niue (language) or koloa (cultural objects) is part of an ongoing conversation with community, artists and academics immersed in everything Niuean.

Blog by Paula Legel, Associate Curator Heritage Publications & Cora-Allan Lafaiki Twiss, Hiapo maker

Cora-Allan Lafaiki Twiss is a tufuga (expert maker of) hiapo (tapa) living in West Auckland, who was asked by her Grandparents Vakaafi and Fotia Lafaiki to take up the practice of hiapo to make their burial cloths. I have been lucky enough to get to know Cora-Allan through shared projects at the Museum and admire her gahua and her makai (interest) in all aspects of the culture of creating hiapo.

Several years ago, I discovered a book for sale written and printed by one of the most renowned American craft printers of the early 20th century - Dard Hunter, who was also interested in all types of paper. Dard made his own paper, the type to print his writing and even some of the inks with which to print the type. He learned the western tradition of papermaking and printing in New York, Vienna and the UK, bringing an antique papermaking machine back to the US after he left London. As his expertise grew, so did his interest in other types of papermaking around the world and he travelled extensively to walk alongside those traditional makers.

In 1926 he took a boat from San Francisco and travelled around the Pacific, to learn more about the traditional hiapo processes in the various island nations across the Moana. Starting in Tahiti, he went on to the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Niue (sadly only as part of the mail run, so unable to land) and finally Hawai'i, before returning to San Francisco. While in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Hawai'i he was able to learn the processes from traditional practitioners and was gifted pieces of hiapo and tools as he travelled. He always took extensive notes as he was learning and drew many of the patterns and tools so that he could compare and contrast the processes and patterns when he wrote his book on returning home.

In 1927 he published the book, ‘Primitive papermaking: an account of a Mexican sojourn and of a voyage to the Pacific islands in search of information, implements, and specimens relating to the making & decorating of bark-paper’ which included an extensive section based on his voyage around the Pacific.

In his autobiography ‘My life with paper’ (1958), Dard writes about waking up after his first night in Vavau, Samoa. “Before arising the following morning, I could hear the rhythmical pounding of the tapa-beaters, a sound distinguishable from all others”. From that sentence alone, we can understand that tapa making was still an everyday process in Vavau in the mid-1920s.

Once we had received the book, I showed it to Cora-Allan, who was captivated by the examples from the Pacific but also those from Mexico and South-East Asia too.

Cora-Allan Lafaiki Twiss

Since beginning my Hiapo practice in 2016 I have been obsessed with tapa and seeing the differences of bark cloth practices in many different communities worldwide. But especially those from the Pacific realm. I’m pretty sure at this point in my career that I can be given an image of Pacific tapa and name the island of where it came from.

Dard’s book is filled with drawings, images, and samples of tapa that give a broader sense of the tapa making process from the different communities that he visited. This is something I found very different to other tapa sampler books like the one Alexander Shaw created using the tapa that Captain Cook collected during his trips to the Pacific. Dard’s book for me gives a clearer engagement with the community and their processes.

His line drawings of tapa making tools were fascinating as they reminded me of my drawings in my journals from my early years of research when I was figuring out the hiapo tools I would need to begin my practice. I took measurements of the Ike (beater) in museum collections and continued to compare with other islands before settling on the design of my tools. I began with making tools that would fit my hand and what I thought would fit my style of hiapo making. It made me wonder what other drawings you might find in a tapa makers journal in regard to the designing of their own specific tools.

I also enjoyed the way he had some tools on pages laid out almost in comparison. If we think about the sizes of tapa cloth from different islands the shape often changed due to this, as an example I have found Tongan and Fiji tools to be wider and heavier as they produce large amounts of tapa in a collective group and spread the cloth out very fast when they beat.

From line drawings, to creating tools, to then making the sounds of hiapo tapping on the tutua (anvil) it is such a transition and movement in the learning process that I will never forget making my first sound. When I was learning about hiapo during my first visit to Niue a lady sung the words, “tutu hiapo, tutu tutu hiapo” the sound of her singing is often in my mind when I am beating. When I first made sounds at the tutua the sound was so foreign to my Samoan tutor she asked me if that was a Niue sound of beating tapa cloth. I naturally had a rhythm when I beat and compared to today my sound has changed at different parts and also, I have learnt to enjoy the process and not rush it.

After seeing similar books to Dard’s, I have been inspired to make small artist books and little versions of samplers myself. However, they are not elaborate and large like this one. They are more like studies of thoughts that happen to be in book form and capture a moment of my thoughts during ideas of change and experimentation. One of these books was filled with still life objects that were given to me from my nana and contained hiapo tools and objects pertaining to my practice. I often look at these and think they are little polaroids of my hiapo practice and connect straight back to Niue.

At the moment I am thinking about the next book that I am wanting to release and what that may look like as a resource that’s helpful to other creators. Sampler books like Dard’s have given me thoughts of how to layout patterns and text in a way that is beautiful but also simple enough to be digestible and easy to learn from.

Ink preparation

Beating the bark

Ink application