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Barkcloth 'ahu

Barkcloth 'ahu

Place: Tahiti & Society Islands
Category: Barkcloth

Tahiti and the Society Islands, l. 92 cm, w. 129 cm, Inv. Oz 628

Humphrey No. 36: ‘Black Cloth glazed with a gummy Substance to keep out rain, from Otaheite.’

The cloth is double-layered, one layer being very thin and the other quite thick. The two layers have been made from different fibre materials. At one corner of the cloth, a piece measuring 6 x 13 cm has been torn off, and one corner (24 x 5 cm) has been cut away. The piece has a Humphrey label with the number 36.

One of the layers is dyed brown and has a blackish-brown shiny surface in places. The other layer has a natural yellowish hue, similar to that of the small remnants of a third layer. The blackish-brown dye lends the cloth a varnish-like finish. This varnish was made either from the soot of burnt candlenuts, tiairi (Aleurites triloba) together with mountain banana juice and ochre-coloured soil, or from the bark sap of the genus Bischoffia (cf. Hambruch 1926: 30; Bunzendahl 1935: 127).

The varnish-like coating combined with the sap from the bark of Aleurites triloba, the pigment of which forms a gum-like substance, could also have been used for making the barkcloth durable in the rain (see Humphrey annotation above). Gundolf Krüger


Bunzendahl, Otto, Tahiti und Europa: Entdeckungsgeschichte der Gesellschaftsinseln, Studien zur Völkerkunde, Leipzig, 1935, vol. 8.

Hambruch, Paul, Ozeanische Rindenstoffe, Oldenburg, 1926.

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