Origin of our Motifs

The first three panels represent, in order from top, FIJI ISLANDS, TONGA, and SAMOA. In each case the central motif was adopted from a traditional tapa of each country. While the motifs appear to be stylised flower or star patterns, the symbolic significance of these ancient designs has long since been lost. This is also true of the more geometric elements of the border patterns. Other inspirations are more obvious: the Fijian comb pattern features at the top and the bottom of the entire tapa; frigate birds are between the panels for Fiji and Tonga; and cannibal forks feature between the Tonga and Samoa panels.

The fourth panel represents SOLOMON ISLANDS and has as its main motif a lengga nut design from a kap-kap shell ornament, which is traditionally worn around the neck. The striated triangles at the edges were taken from a carved war club.

The central motif for the fifth panel, representing KIRIBATI, is taken from a fine woven mat. This is bordered on each side by a stylised shark’s tooth spear and is separated from the panel above by a design taken from the finely woven sinnet cord featured on the haft of the spear.

Between the fifth panel and the sixth panels representing TUVALU, is a turtle border design taken from a Fijian tapa. The Tuvalu star pattern is also taken from a mat design and the border represents the ancient bamboo flute which is still sometimes played in Tonga.

The seventh panel represents COOK ISLANDS. In the centre is a motif from a carved ritual adze from Mangaia while the bottom border is taken from a wooden food bowl.

The VANUATU panel beneath features design from a rare ritual head-dress of the Banks Islands and is bordered by a pattern which is said to represent the marks made by crabs walking across wet sand.

The ninth panel is for NIUE. Its central motif, the bent cross pattern on the sides, and the flying birds which separate this panel from the one above are all taken from a very old tapa returned to Niue from New Zealand. The centre design is common throughout the entire Oceania/Indonesia region.

The panel for TOKELAU is taken from a woven mat, and is separated from that for Niue by a stylised crab design.

The eleventh panel represents NAURU and shows string figures, which are a traditional art form. The central figure tells a legend of twin babies fighting for milk at their mother’s breast, while the side figures depict flying fish.

The final panel is for MARSHALL ISLANDS. The top and side borders come from a traditional Marshall Islands mat weave, refering to lineage and land inheritance. The side borders are joor, meaning pillar, and refer to the important positions of chiefs and lineage heads. The central motif is a navigation stick chart, rebbelib or meddo, used by the ancient sailing masters to chart currents and islands.