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Mat fau

Mat fau

Place: Tonga
Category: Clothing

leaf strips, Tonga, l. 78 cm, w. 166 cm, Inv. Oz 151

Humphrey No. 117: ‘A curious open work Mat, the holes being formed in the making from the Friendly Isles.’

The mat is made out of diagonally plaited leaf strips, 4 mm wide, and incorporating rectangular holes (max. 9 x 8 mm). These are formed by the leaf strips being bent over and interwoven into the mat again in the opposite direction. The edges of the mat are closed and straight, with the exception of the projecting, shortest edge, which ends in loose strands. One side of the mat is yellowish-brown, and is dyed reddish-brown in places. The other side is almost completely reddish-brown. Some light brown, diagonally crossed over leaf strips can be recognised on both sides. Kaeppler (1971: 211, PI. 2b) referred in general to the kie fau mats, and emphasised that these were fabricated of the inner bark of the fau (Hibiscus tiliaceus), sometimes softened in salt water: ‘The texture is fine and delicate, and the manufacture is a difficult enterprise in contrast to the plaiting of sturdy pandanus mats. Kie fau were worn as waist mats only by chiefs - kie fau indicating chiefly rank, just as wearing the ta’ovala la indicated that one was a certain kind of matapule.’ (Kaeppler 1971: 211)

A similar piece may be found in Berne (Kaeppler 1978a: 216; Kaeppler 1978b: 38f.). Inken Köhler, Ulrike Rehr, Gundolf Krüger


Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Eighteenth century Tonga: new interpretations of Tongan society and material culture at the time of Captain Cook’, Man, 1971, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 204-220, plates 1-6.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, Cook Voyage Artifacts in Leningrad, Berne and Florence Museums, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978b.

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