19th-Century Fiji Tapa Cloth & Club

Value (2008) | $2,500 Retail$3,500 Retail

The club and the tapa cloth were given to my great-grandparents by the man in the photograph, Ratu Meli, in, we think, 1926 in Fiji. At this point in time, they were just coming out of their head-shrinking days. This was his club and apparently a tapa cloth that was used mainly as their form of dress. This one I would expect to have had some significance because of the intricate pattern, whereas the photographs that we have show him either in a plain white or a plain black.

Okay. We have seen a lot of tapa cloth on the Roadshow. And we've really seen it in the context of bedding or personal adornment. This is a little bit different. And clearly with the documentation that you have from the photograph and through your great-grandfather, this tapa cloth is probably 19th century. Now, I want to talk about two different ways that they're used other than in a utilitarian way. These can be hung in the god house, over the rafters, and through the tapa cloth they get a message from the gods to the priest in the god house. Another way, which is probably more pertinent to your great-grandfather and the chief, is that objects like this were called "bark cloth of the land." It's from the mulberry tree, and the bark is stripped off and it's wet and pounded so the tree, from the land, it becomes a symbol of the chief's authority and his power. Now, the club is the same way. Whenever we see an object like this, we want to see a wear pattern that's appropriate for this. Now, you look and you see how you have an increased patination toward the end...


And at the very end, we have a phallic ending. Again, it's a male symbol of power. This is exactly what we want to see. Now, this wasn't used to hit anybody, because if it did, we'd have all kinds of dings and scrapes. As you can see, this is just plain. Now, what is really fascinating about this is we have the chief's symbol of authority, which... he has become Christian, he's been converted, and so he gives the objects to your great-grandfather. That in itself is a little unusual. In the Belgian Congo, for example, the missionaries there destroyed everything, because they felt that these were symbols of heathens and headhunters, and they burned them.


So I think it's really exciting that we've found something that has survived and has come to us in this fabulous condition. So, I think, with this cloth and the club, with the documentation, conservatively, in a gallery, $2,500 to $3,500.


Appraisal Details

Dallas, TX
Appraised value (2008)
$2,500 Retail$3,500 Retail
Chattanooga, TN (July 19, 2008)
Tribal Arts

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