DER Documentary

Kuo Hina E Hiapo: The Mulberry is White and Ready for Harvest


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by Melinda and Joseph Ostraff
color, 27 min, 2001




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Tapa cloth or ngatu as it is called in Tonga, is cloth made from the bark of the mulberry tree. The inner bark is beaten into fine sheets and painted using traditional designs. After centuries of use, ngatu has literally become the fabric of Tongan society.

In Tonga and throughout much of Polynesia, bark cloth has deep symbolic and ceremonial use. At birth, babies are swaddled in it. At marriage, newlyweds line their wedding bed, and at death, the departed are buried wrapped in it.

This documentary investigates the highly collaborative process of making ngatu and the organizations of women who carry on with the tradition. While the process continues to be passed on from generation to generation, there are signs of change as a cash economy begins to infiltrate Tongan life. Young people show less interest in such labor intensive endeavor in the face of the older generation's belief that this tradition will never die.

Narration in English with interviews in Tongan with English subtitles.

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