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Marcellin College

Tapa , A Tongan Treasure

Tapa and Tongan Weddings

Hi my name is Christina. I am part of the Tatafu family, a family that consists of six people. My family has many traditions that have been handed down to our family from generations before.

One of the many famous traditions known to Tongans is the making of tapa cloth. Every piece of tapa has its own meaning. It may be a symbol that represents the family who is making it, or something that has to do with the royal family.

Tapa is used at almost all of our celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, funerals, graduations and many more. But I think that the most famous occasion is the wedding where tapa is used a lot.

A Tongan wedding lasts up to three days. For instance, my cousin's wedding was on a Thursday and finished on a Sunday night. The ceremony was held on the Thursday afternoon where tapa cloth was presented to the in-laws. The following day, we had our side (my cousin) say their farewells to her because she was about to move in with her husband. On the Saturday, she moved into her husband's house with his family where more tapa cloth was presented to the in-laws. Then finally, on the first Sunday after the wedding, they had the first mass together and, as is usual, there was a feast after this occasion. The normal day for a Tongan wedding to proceed is usually on a Saturday, and it finishes on a Sunday, but my cousin's wedding lasted longer because it was special.

When someone in the royal family gets married, the wedding is even longer. Only the finest mats and tapa are used on these occasions. The ceremony involves thousands of people. At the last royal wedding the princess had over 40 bridesmaids and her wedding reception went on for eight days. So the lucky guests had eight days of fine feasting and, of course, I'm sure you were allowed to kai faa'o. You can imagine the amount of tapa cloth that was used for that wedding!

Way back in the old days when there was a wedding, most of the things for the couple were made out of tapa cloth. And those traditions are still used today, like at my cousin's wedding. You have something called a 'mohenga mole' - a bed that is made for the couple for them to use on their honeymoon which is made out of tapa. 'Kafu'  means blanket, and in the old days, pieces of tapa were literally used as blankets because they did not have the kinds of blankets we have today. And we have 'puipui' which mean curtains. Yes, you guessed it, it was so far back that curtains did not even exist.

All of these things were prepared by the ladies on the girl's side of the family and presented to the in-laws over the days. Then her side would also get bits and pieces from his side. It is a lot of hard work for these ladies to prepare it. Sometimes it can take a whole day getting the right things together. You end up losing what has been handed down for many years. But I have never heard any of the ladies complain because it is all worth it.