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Published: 16 October 2022

By Andy Ross

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The Pacifica Galleries at Te Papa

A choir costume from the Tokaikolo Church in Pooneke Wellington. 

The National Museum, Te Papa, in Wellington Pooneke holds a collection of fabrics and textiles from the islands of the Pacific. 

From church choir uniforms to costumes for fashion shows, part of the collection is on display in the museum.

The piece on the left is a uniform from the women's choir of the Tokaikolo Christian Church in Wellington. It is worn for celebrations and services in the Tongan community and comprises a waist mat that is tied with a plaited waist cord - Te Papa has several examples of these cords - and worn over a blouse and underskirt. This particular costume is made of polyester, coconut and plant fibre and polycotton. Christianity and uniform provide a way for the community to hold onto and build its identity.

Miss South Pacific 2013

There are several examples of fashion in the display including the example on the right from the Miss South Pacific Pageant in 2013. Teuira Napa won the Traditionally Inspired category in this costume made by her mother, Tarani, who was reflecting on her upbringing in the northern Cook Islands where she learned from her grandmother how to make fans from rito (coconut leaf).  Teuira went on to win the competition.


The second photograph is Miss Samoa's costume from 1997. Made entirely from natural material the wearer, Susan Pau, won the title in the costume made by New Zealand-based Samoan designer Paula Chan Cheuk.