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Ngatu Designs


Tapa circle that incorporates ngatu designs (the Tongan seal is in the center but it isn't very clear in this picture)


Another example of various ngatu designs used in decorative Tongan art

The art of Tapa making is still widely practiced in Tonga. The sound of women making tapa is heard throughout the island. Groups of women have formed ngatu making clubs that specialize in mass production of ngatu pieces for traditional and ceremonial purposes. Most are sold to overseas Tongans who remain true to Tongan customary practice of koloa or gift giving.


Tokelaufeletoa - a kupesi from Vava'u. The woman who designed this patter was Hulita Tu'ifua and she came from the northern part of the village of feletoa - hence the name: Tokelau (north) Feletoa (the village of Feletoa)


Fata 'o Tu'i Tonga - refering to the house of the king, in particular, the central beam. Representative of the sennit bindings which holds the support of the central beam, supporting the thatched roof.


Manulua - probably one of the oldest of Polynesian designs. It's origins are unknown but similar motifs have been found throughout Polynesian art and in early Lapita pottery. I have seen several explanations indicating that it was either a flower motif or a bird motif.


Amoamokofe - meaning to rub with a bamboo stick. This design is from Vava'u.


Kalou - this design is representative of the mapa plant from which Tongan oil is obtained. The pattern shows the inside cross-section of the seed-pod.


There are many other patterns that are used extensively throughout Tonga including Fakamalu'okatea, Aotapu, Hemehemaloutoa, Sisi, Tatautuisipa, Ve'etuli, 'Alolua, Matahifihifi, etc.  More recently, Tongans have created modern patterns that take from outside influences; these include 'Ikale, Laione, Sila 'o Tonga, Hala Paini, Sisi Papa'i Fa, Fakalala 'o Lupepau'u, Lupe mo e Lou 'Olive, etc.
This is an impressive representation of Tongan ngatu. ngatu pieces can range from 10 inches to over 100 feet. A Ngatu is not considered complete without the addition of three dots as decoration (Fo'ihea or Tukihea, also called Tusea in Fiji). The group of three dots is recent; older ngatu have just one dot such as the ngatu pictured here.

The rhythmical sound of women beating ngatu is known as Tutu. When this drumbeat stops, it means someone in the village has died and silence must be observed. The length of the silence is an index to the rank of the deceased and the ban or tapu against loud noises is lifted by a ceremony known as Tukipotu, characterised by the ritual beating of tapa.