By Paulina Bentley (Tautai Intern, Pacific Collection)
A titi fou is a skirt that is hand woven from fou (lace bark), a resource plentiful in Niue. It is worn for special occasions and to adorn a dancer during performances.
The delicate texture of the fibre is achieved by stripping the bark and submerging it in the sea for several days until the hard fibres have been loosened and can be easily pulled away. In many cases, fou is dyed in various colours to create a unique titi fou. It is often accompanied with woven rosettes along the waistband.
As more Niueans now live in New Zealand than in Niue, titi fou are not made as often today. Fou does not grow well in New Zealand’s climate, but Niueans have continued the tradition of making titi with new materials. Contemporary titi are made from the ti leaf plant that was imported into New Zealand and now grows here alongside the rest of the Pacific. The ti leaf is cut in half and then woven together or with a strip of fabric. When worn, it acts similar to a titi fou except this titi is often oiled as well to help emphasise a dancer’s sway during their performance.
Titi fou are a significant aspect of Niue’s material culture, and the adaptations by the Niuean community to keep their culture strong.