TEXTILES AND FASHION IN FIJI
In Fiji, cloth production and use has been documented since the earliest interactions between Western explorers and indigenous Fijian people. However, the cloth that was written about was not cotton, it was what voyagers termed ‘native cloth’ made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree. This tree, which is the same tree that original Chinese paper was made from, was probably brought to Fiji by the earliest settlers over three thousand years ago.
Known globally as barkcloth or tapa, in Fiji it is called masi and was historically used as clothing for men and as bedding, house partitions and mosquito curtains, as well as large ritual and ceremonial presentation pieces. Today, it is used mainly in presentations during events such as weddings, deaths, chiefly installations and birthdays. It is made by stripping the raw material from the stem and then soaking and beating the inner bark with a wooden mallet into sheets of varying thickness and size.
Exclusively women’s work, with the exception of a region in interior Viti Levu where men were the makers of masi and but is now no longer produced, there are two main decoration techniques. The first uses stencils, originally made of banana leaves but nowadays x-ray film, appears to be unique to Fiji in the Pacific region. The most common type of stencilled cloth is called masi kesa and is stencilled using red and black dye made of vegetable and mineral components. In the Lau Island Group, a rubbing technique was employed using a tablet or rubbing board and produced gatu vakatoga. A special hybridised type of cloth evolved in Eastern Fiji called gatu vakaviti which combined the rubbing and stencilling techniques and reflects the influence of Tongan migration into that part of Fiji in the 1800s.