Sulieti Fieme'a Burrows

Hauhau Heilala O Tupou To’a

Hauhau Heilala O Tupou To’a tongan tapa art


Tui Emma Gillies and Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows

Materials: Tapa cloth, Kupesi, Umea and ink.

Size: 80cm x 60cm

Exhibited as part of Locked In Under The Stars, sponsored by Creative New Zealand

story from the artists

Tui and I had planned to go to Nuku’alofa to buy some tapa cloth and stock up for an exhibition in Hawaii. But COVID-19 put a stop to our trip to Tonga and forced the postponement of the exhibition in Hawaii.

Nothing makes you more homesick for the islands than being told you can’t go there. So sitting in Kawakawa and Auckland, where we worked on these pieces, I began to feel very nostalgic for Tonga and very soon I was painting this piece. It was the closest thing I had to being home again.

Sulieti’s explanation of the kupesi designs used for the background rubbing and for the main pattern:
The women of the villages made beautiful necklaces, known as Hauhau Heilala O Tupou To’a, for the prince. They were adorned with fragrant heilala flowers and a special fruit and taken to Tupou To’a, the prince’s residence. They took the kahoa heilala, or necklaces, over to give the house a beautiful fragrance. It was their gift to the prince.
The kupesi design (originally from Tongatapu) in the middle of the tapa painting is called Kalou. It represents a beautiful-smelling fruit named Fua ’I Mapa. The kupesi shows the fruit cut in half. A string is threaded through the fruit and the heilala flower used to produce the kahoa heilala necklace.
The rest of the kupesi we used to rub under the tapa cloth was made in Falevai by a family member and handed down to Tui and I to use and look after.
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