alkhemy design

Surface Design Studio

Tifaifai in Tahiti

In Aunty Myrna's backyard, her freshly finished Tifaifai quilt.

In Aunty Myrna's backyard, her freshly finished Tifaifai quilt.

It is safe to say that I embrace the islands of French Polynesia as if it were my home. Having frequently traveled to Tahiti, I have created bonds with many local families and soaked up much of the culture of Mao'hi people. I have concluded that I am a Polyphile. I wanted to share some of the things that make French Polynesia special to me. First off, the Tifaifai. We all know that the Missionaries brought "quilting" to the South Pacific but both Hawaiian and Tahitian women adapted this into a lovely artform known as Tifaifai in Tahiti. Tifaifai actually means "to mend" in the Tahitian language, Reo Mao'hi. Before European contact most cloth-like items were made from tapa. Tapa is created by beating the mulberry tree's hull down into strips and piecing them together to create larger surfaces. More about Tapa/Kapa later, in a separate post. Typical design motifs include, hibiscus, bougainvillea, yellow creepers, opuhi, porcelain roses, pitate, orchids, birds of paradise, and anthuriums.

In the begining, decoration on a tifaifai was administered by using leaves, either by making stencils from such or in the case of the uru (breadfruit), using the whole leaf to make in imprint. The tifaifai were first ceremonial objects and only for the arii classes.  Placed on the beds or used as wall hangings, they serve as ornaments for the home.  The tifaifai is also an object that is offered on the occasion of important events: marriage, birth, passing an important person. It also gives the one who leaves the island a brand new identity, a family memory and link to the fenua ( the land ).