Mediations of Cloth: Tapa and Personhood among the Maisin in PNG

Anna-Karina Hermkens

Tapa (or barkcloth), which is made from the outer bark of specific trees, is intimately interwoven with past and present socialities across Oceania. The cloths have been used to decorate, wrap, cover, protect, and carry the human body, as exchange valuables and commodities, in land claims, and as indexes and embodiments of ancestral power. This article explores the complexities of personhood in Oceania by focusing on the making and ceremonial use of tapa among the Maisin of Collingwood Bay, Papua New Guinea. It elucidates dynamics of the intimate correspondence between people and things, and, in particular, how people’s gendered identities are mediated: that is shaped, reproduced, and contested through the cloth’s specific materiality and design. Ultimately, it reveals the mutual growth of people and things and how they are part of each other’s substance, thereby dissolving the subject–object dichotomy.

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Research Type(s)
Journal Article
Submitted by Toksave
March 22, 2021
Published in
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