[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: IV | By Viveka Hansen]

Sample books including tapa cloth, originating from the three circumnavigations of Captain James Cook – 1768 to 1779 – are today spread around the world. One traveller who had a broad interest in these cloths, was Carl Linnaeus’ apostle Anders Sparrman, who travelled as an assistant botanist in the company of Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg Forster on Cook’s second voyage (1772-1775).

Tapa samples for the forthcoming publication Textiles from a Global 18th-century Perspective – Traditions and Trade studied by Carl Linnaeus and his Apostles are newly produced (2005) on Tonga using traditional methods. The dyeing substance for the patterned fabric, was collected from the roots of the mangrove tree, which has been used for decorating fabrics on Tonga for hundreds of years. In the original editions of Sparrman’s books – 1802 and 1818 – the white fabric had been obtained on Tahiti, whereas the patterned one had been produced on Tonga.  Courtesy of the IK Foundation & Company (www.ikfoundation.org).

Tapa samples for the forthcoming publication ”TEXTILIA LINNAEANA – Global 18th-century Textile Traditions & Trade„ are newly produced (2005) on Tonga using traditional methods. The dyeing substance for the patterned fabric, was collected from the roots of the mangrove tree, which has been used for decorating fabrics on Tonga for hundreds of years. In the original editions of Sparrman’s books – 1802 and 1818 – the white fabric had been obtained on Tahiti, whereas the patterned one had been produced on Tonga.
Photo: The IK Foundation (www.ikfoundation.org).

SAMPLES OF TAPA CLOTH. Sparrman’s interest in bark cloth is further demonstrated in the parts of his journal which were only published many years after his voyage. To both those volumes fabric samples were attached with a descriptive note on their quality; the first of them consisted of an un-dyed thin Tapa of a neutral colour which had been brought back from Otaheiti [Tahiti]. There he reiterated the process of how it was manufactured, pointing out that the stripes had been achieved through the beater’s treatment of the material. It was also noted that the textile could be washed with great care and that a long period in bleaching sunlight whitened the fabric. The other sample in the volume is both painted and varnished to a russet hue. Sparrman wrote: ‘The sample of cloth attached here is from the Friendly Islands [Tonga]’. The varnish, it was further noted, protected the cloth quite well against water, even when the islanders swam in the sea. The material was by no means always russet in colour; black, brown or yellow in various patterns were also seen. Sparrman must therefore have brought at least two types of bark cloth back to Sweden in the year 1776.

Example of clothes made by local tapa cloth, used by inhabitants at Ulietea’ [Raiatea] 1769. Raiatea.  Hawkesworth, John, An Account of the Voyages undertaken by the order of his present Majesty for making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere..., vol. 2 plate 7 (part of ‘Dancing at Ulietea’), London 1773.

Example of clothes made by local tapa cloth, used by inhabitants at Ulietea [Raiatea] illustrated 1769 (with some Europeanisation). John Hawkesworth, ”An Account of the Voyages undertaken by the order of his present Majesty for making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere…„, vol. 2 plate 7. (Part of ‘Dancing at Ulietea’), London 1773.

The two books recording the voyage onboard the Adventure were, as previously mentioned, only published in 1802 and 1818, which means that Sparrman had kept those bark cloths safe for 26 and 42 years respectively after his return to Sweden in order for the samples to be attached to those editions. Such a degree of care and planning to do with the cloth must suggest that he regarded them as extremely valuable and essential to be shown off and preserved for a larger public.

To be continued with more extracts…

[Extracts from the forthcoming book ‘TEXTILIA LINNAEANA – Global 18th-century Textile Traditions & Trade’, see “NEWS”].

Reading tips

  • iLinnaeus.org free iBOOKS, iFACTS, iINDEX about Anders Sparrman and his fellow Linnaeus’ apostles
  • The Linnaeus Apostles Global Science & Adventure 8 Volumes, 11 Books. Full set or individual volumes in THE LINNEAN ROOM / THE IK SHOP.

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

  • Hansen, Viveka, ‘Anders Sparrman’s Observations of Tapa Cloth (C 1)’, TEXTILIS (July 7, 2013); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)

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