In the 1830s, Samoan missionaries who were part of the London Missionary Society introduced tapa-making to Niue. Little is known about Niuean hiapo (tapa) before that time, although there were accounts of Niueans wearing hiapo as a loincloth.
Niueans made hiapo by felting – layering pieces of tapa cloth together. By the late 1800s they had created their own indigenous style of decoration, using a distinctive freehand approach. Into the decoration they incorporated motifs and designs from shapes of plants and humans.
Some hiapo were very large, although the use of these pieces is unclear, and by the early 1900s they were virtually non-existent.
This collection narrative is based on the Tapa: Pacific Style exhibition on display at Te Papa, level 4 (September 2009 - September 2010).