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The Royal Tapa Cloth

A year or two ago, I was rummaging through trays of old slides looking at KVR slides that I hadn’t thought of for years.  Among them I saw a picture of Kahea Beckley dancing at the lu’au--then a much simpler affair than it is now. (See Appendix V)  In the picture I noticed the tapa cloth that once was draped over the beams in the Hale Moana.  It went from the front door to the kitchen, and was a treasure admired by all.  Things do come and go, and are forgotten, but when I saw that little glimpse I began to wonder about it--where had it come from, and where had it gone?

The expert, of course, was longtime manager, Fred Duerr, and he recalled the history:  The tapa was given by the Queen of Tonga to Randy Gault, a vice president of Signal Companies to be presented to Kona Village, in gratitude for the village’s promotion of the culture of Polynesia.  It was a royal tapa made by members of the royal household and was believed to be one of the largest Tonga tapas in existence at the time. It had originally been made as the ceremonial carpet used in the crowning of the King, and was 14 feet wide and 90 feet long.

Its position in the Hale Moana was not good for it, however.  The end was whipped by the wind when the doors were open, birds nested in it, and rodents found the mulberry bark to be tasty.  Every year when the village closed for two weeks it was taken down and swept clear, but eventually it was badly in need of restoration, so Auntie Lei, Kahea, and Fred took it to the Church College (BYU) where a lady from Tonga, Emilene Unga, worked on tapa.  They had to get special permission from the Queen of tonga to allow a commoner to work on the tapa cloth, and royal dye had to be sent up from Tonga to be used in the restoration work.  Restoration took a year to get permissions and dyes, and a year to do the work.  Finally it was put back up in the Hale Moana.

When it got too fragile and couldn’t be repaired, it was retired, enclosed (rather ignominiously, for royalty) in black plastic trash bags, and stored.

On my February visit I was privileged to see it, touch it, and photograph it.  It clearly has had a rough time of it, but because it was so much a part of the early village, Auntie Lei agreed that in May it would be unrolled, 14 feet wide and now 84 feet long, for all to see once again.

And behold!  Here it is, being unrolled:


The old timers remember it, but those who started going to the village after it was taken down didn't know it existed, yet it was an important feature of the early village. It's faded and a bit tattered, but still wears its royalty proudly.  Now, if we could just figure out how to display it so that newcomers to the village could share this old treasure