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Published: 04 March 2023

By Andy Ross

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The DNA of tapa cloth

Barkcloth is known from around the world and nowadays it is commonly known as 'tapa', the name originally for cloth from Tahiti.

The Pacific is home to many different varieties of tapa and in New Zealand the cloth, known as 'aute' in Maori, was not made from paper mulberry as is usual in other parts of the region. Paper mulberry was introduced to the islands by Maori travellers but the climate does not suit the plant and the introduction was not successful so aute was made from other fibrous material. 

Once the bark is soaked and pounded, identification of the original plant matter becomes difficult so a couple of years back scientists decided to create a database of the plants used in 18th and 19th Century tapa held in museum collections by using DNA analysis. It is fascinating to learn how DNA is helping to support research into tapa cloth and this short blog entry from Te Papa describes how.