The Fiji Times » Back in History: The Perfect Souvenir

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The beautifully patterned barkcloth, known as masi in Fiji and tapa everywhere else in the South Pacific, had slowly become one of Fiji’s main exports, according to a January 2, 1973 Fiji Times article.

A length, which one could easily get at the market or in craft centers, made an excellent souvenir.

The article stated that the demand for tapa cloth had increased over the years.

Although centuries old in manufacturing technique, the making of masi had gained momentum as thousands of pieces were exported each month to Hawaii, Australia and Tahiti.

For the Fijian people, the masi played an important role in community life. Presented at births, deaths and weddings, it was worn as part of ceremonial dress on other important occasions.

Made from the bark of a paper mulberry tree, making masi required a special preparation process.

It took about a year for the tree to reach maturity before it was felled and the bark peeled off while still soft.

The bark was then soaked in water and discarded, beaten with mallets on a slab and made into cloth immediately or left to dry in the sun.

Masi could be stencilled where a carved pattern was used to rub the dye onto fabric or by smoking lengths of barkcloth.

The creation of the design required many hours of very meticulous work. For ceremonial purposes, sections of cloth were joined together until the resulting piece was of great length and width, requiring several people to carry it.

There was a recording of a large play that was made in Somosomo in 1872 to be presented to King Cakobau.

It was said to be half a mile long and when folded it was 30 feet long and eight feet high.

Historical specimens and details of masi making have been displayed at the Fiji Museum in Suva.

The head office of masi export at the time was the Handicraft of Fiji Cooperative office on the first floor of Procera House, Waimanu Rd, Suva.

The cooperative brought in masi from the outer islands, where the proceeds from eventual sales represented a very important form of income for the village.

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