Bark cloth from Samoa
The siapo or Samoan bark cloth is an important symbol of Samoan traditional culture and dress. Siapo was used in Samoa both for everyday wear and also for ceremonial occasions, and lengths were given as gifts. It is made by beating the bast which has been separated from the bark of the paper mulberry plant,or u'a. This process appears to have originated in China. The resulting cloth is decorated with patterns using natural dyes derived from native trees, roots, nuts and sap. Patterns and symbols of plants, insects, animals and birds are used freely with no particular restrictions and they are continually evolving. The patterns are rubbed on over a rectangular base, upeti, of carved wood or patterned bundles of leaves and stems. The process is known as tasina and could be compared with brass rubbing. Patterns can also be handpainted, these are known as siapo mamanu. Siapo is a unique and longstanding tradition in Samoa and the patterns are distinctive.
This particular bark cloth is thought to have been made in the nineteen twenties or thirties and was brought to Australia by a Samoan nurse, Ella Blacklock. Her father was Captain Bill Blacklock, a sea merchant. Ella came to Sydney to train as a nurse and got to know some of the doctors at Sydney Hospital. At weekends she would go sailing on the harbour and that was where she met Charles Godtschalk who sailed with them. Ella gave the siapo to Charles in the 1930s and he treasured it. The siapo was made in Samoa by an unknown maker.