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Object: Cloak

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Title Cloak
Production Unknown, circa 1870, Cook Islands
Medium summary hibiscus bast fibre, wool
Materials wool, plant fibre
Classification cloaks
Dimensions Overall: 1400mm (Length) x 2250mm (Width)
Credit line Gift of Te Aia Mataiapo, 1872
Registration number FE000628
This magnificent cloak once belonged to Teai'a Mata'iapo, a Rarotongan chief. In the Colonial Museum’s Annual report, it is noted that Teai'a Mata‘iapo presented a cloak and a number of other objects to the New Zealand government in gratitude for the hospitality he had received during a visit to Auckland (Hector 1873). The other objects - one large mat, two pieces of tapa and two fans - were sent to the museum by the then Native Minister, Donald McLean. Other than this information, no official or published record of Teai'a’s visit has been located. However, it is likely that the chief came to New Zealand as a member of one or more delegations from the Cook Islands. He made connections with the local scholarly community, as evidenced by his appointment as a corresponding member of the Polynesian Society from its establishment in Wellington in 1892 (Sorrenson 1992: 32).


The cloak left behind by Teai'a is a stunning and rare example of the way Cook Islands women were combining imported fabric and indigenous fibre in clothing or ceremonial dress. The cloak’s body is of a very fine blue woollen cloth, and the red trim is also imported fabric. The golden fibres are kiri‘au from the inner fibre of the bark of hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus). Cook Islands women often combined red and blue imported cloth with kiri‘au when making dance costumes during the first part of the twentieth century. The same combination was also popular in other Polynesian islands. In pre-European times, decorative, colourful cloaks were found only in New Zealand and Hawai‘i.

Late twentieth century connections

In the nineteenth century, the introduction of European cloth and dress fashions provided opportunities for new expressions of status throughout the islands. Pacific people have long experimented with different styles and materials, often with striking results. Dressed with this cloak, Teai'a Mata‘iapo must have been an impressive figure. The garment is a triumphant early expression of a new Pacific style. More than a century later, in 1993, a descendant of Teai'a Mata‘iapo, Viriama Teura, saw this cloak on display in the National Museum. She then donated to the museum a tivaevae and a moenga (sleeping mat), in a renewal of the relationship that her ancestor had established more than a century before.

Related information

Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.