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Past and present in Niuean barkcloth

John Pule and Nicholas Thomas. Hiapo: Past and present in Niuean barkclothJohn Pule and Nicholas Thomas


'Hiapo' is the word for barkcloth or tapa in the language of Niue. The aim of this book 'is to reveal the power of a remarkable art, that until now has been obscure to all but a few specialists' - the painted hiapo of Niue island in central Polynesia.

Most known pieces of hiapo were produced in the mid to late nineteenth century and are now dispersed, largely in museum collections, all over the world. The authors have worked on this project for a decade, visiting museums, collecting information, travelling to Niue, talking to old people, trying to find out how these paintings were done and who made them. One of the authors, John Pule, has drawn on the art of hiapo for his own paintings and etchings, some of which are included in the book.

In the text, the authors describe their separate encounters with hiapo and offer two perspectives on the art form. Hiapo paintings range from abstract patterns to detailed renderings of plants (from taro to missionaries' sunflowers), people and ships. The use of colour is restricted and the format is often huge, as many cloths were used as bed coverings or tablecloths. Collectively, the paintings offer a window on life in Niue in the second half of the nineteenth century, a time when missionaries, traders and locals were intermingling with increasing frequency.

The illustrations in the book, most of which are in full colour, bring together hiapo from all over the world. This book is the first study of this art form and is a major publication.

Published with the assistance of the University of London.



1 Introduction Nicholas Thomas
2 Desire lives in Hiapo John Pule
3 Savage Island Hiapo Nicholas Thomas
4 The Plates Bibliography

About the Authors

John Pule was born in Niue and is a professional artist living in Auckland. He frequently draws on the traditions and mythology of Niue in his work. He is also a poet and novelist.

Nicholas Thomas's books include Entangled Objects (1991), Oceanic Art (1995), and Possessions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture (1999). He has also curated several exhibitions, most recently “Skin Deep: a History of Tattooing” for the National Maritime Museum, London, and “Cook's Sites” for the Museum of Sydney.

Publication details

ISBN 1 877372 00 5, hardback, 255 x 190 mm, 160 pp, $59.95
Full colour illustrations
Release: August 2005