We went to one of the villages and found several different ladies in the process of making Tapa, Fijian paper. It is quite a step, by step process and it takes many hours and several different skilled ladies. I hope this blog will be informative and interesting as I explain this process.
Video of the 1st stage of pounding the Tapa "paper"
#1 They cut branches, about 3-4 feet long, from a tree. They must be collected a day or two before hand. (I do not know the name of the tree). Then they cut the bark off and unroll the material inside. They might get a piece that is 2-3" wide. They soak this material in water for a while. Then they start pounding it with a wooden mallet that produces a very thin "paper" of about 3-5" wide. This might take as much as an hour to get one piece.
#2 They take several pieces of the flattened paper and continue to pound it on the edges of another piece and soon it becomes one piece of twice the size. This goes on for several hours or days, to get something large enough for their purposes. They have to also connect the ends and join them in the same way. Eventually they might have a piece of paper 5-6' long and 2-3' wide.
#3 Then the printing process begins. They make the colored dye, brown, black, etc. from the dirt or by cooking down plants into a black mixture. This is the "ink" they use. They use stencils they have made for the designs or may use a stick/brush to write on the tapa.
When they are complete, they make it into a wraparound skirt or sulu or a piece to make a wall hanging. They might weave other dried plants into it or colored yarn. They may make a tapestry that can be framed and hung on the wall. They can be large or small, but they are always given with love and are considered a great gift. The sacrifice in time and labor that it takes, might be several weeks, by many different women and girls. They usually make one of these as a farewell gift to visiting dignitaries or special visitors. We see these made for elders and sisters when they are returning from their missions. Even though they may have been in several different areas of the mission, their last area is the one that usually makes the Tapa/Masi for them. They present it to them in a celebration and feast before they leave.
You will see these in different gift shops around the islands for sale, especially to tourists. We see these when the cruise ships some into Savusavu. They are very plentiful in Suva, at resorts, and other areas that are visited by the tourists. The workmanship is amazing.