No, we didn’t have a visit from the TARDIS, but we did unfold a deceptively small textile. The unfolding took place when we recently welcomed Eve Haddow, Assistant Curator for the Scottish Pacific Collections review, to the University Museums’ Collections Centre to evaluate our historic Pacific items. The review is an 18 month partnership project involving four museums which aims to bring together and evaluate Scotland’s collections from the Pacific.
One item in particular stands out from Eve’s two week visit. In our collection we look after a 20 metre textile, which at the time it was made was claimed to be ‘the world’s largest’ tapa cloth. A tapa cloth, or as it is known in Fiji a masi, is a barkcloth that is normally made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree. Originally barkcloth was predominantly used for clothing but this particular piece was laid on the floor during a procession in Fiji celebrating the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 and his consequent installation as Tui biti – the supreme native chief of Fiji (Fiji was a British Crown colony at that time).
We began to unroll the cloth to investigate the patterning on the tapa and check the condition of the item. Below you can see the picture of it as we began to unfold, a misleadingly small bundle…
The Collections Centre team commenced the big reveal in the massive Mitchell Hall at Marischal College. Edward VII opened the newly-revamped and extended Marischal College in 1906, and given this historical connection and size of the room, we thought Mitchell Hall would be good for the unfolding. However it soon became apparent even the Mitchell wasn’t big enough for this magnificent object. Below you can see the cloth only partially unfolded:
Despite only partly unfolding the masi it was still really exciting to be able to examine the object more closely. The Pacific Collections review is an excellent project which allows us, and the other three partner museums, to fully explore, enhance our knowledge and care better for our outstanding Pacific collection. If you would like to find out more and keep up to date with the review please head over to the Pacific Collection Review blog: http://pacificcollectionsreview.wordpress.com/
- 30 foot Fijian barkcloth (pacificcollectionsreview.wordpress.com)