The Lapita motif that got away

Wendy Elizabeth Cowling


A particular decorative motif of some antiquity is still used by Fijian, Samoan and Tongan women when dyeing and painting bark cloth. This motif (See Figure 1) has been taken into the public domain in New Zealand by individuals and groups as a representation of Pacific/New Zealand identity. The motif is popularly (but erroneously) believed to represent a Frangipani flower, a conflation of Oceanic peoples’ love of perfumed flowers and leaves, and the constant use of photographs of the flower in tourist brochures and advertisements as an identifier of Pacific island-ness.


Lapita people; Lapita pottery; decoration of bark cloth in Tonga, Samoa, Fiji; Fatu Feu’u and ‘flower’ motif in New Zealand.

Full Text: