Two weeks spent reviewing the collections in Aberdeen culminated with the unfolding of a 20 metre long piece of Fijian barkcloth, or masi in Fijian. This massive textile, made from the bark of the paper mulberry tree, is one of a number that it was claimed was ‘the worlds largest’ when it was made. The masi was presented to the Governor of Fiji, Sir William Allardyce, at Government house in Suva in 1902 to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII and his new position as Tui biti – the supreme native chief of Fiji. At that time Fiji was a British Crown colony. The masi was laid on the ground and Allardyce with his staff walked in a procession along the length of it as part of the celebration.
Unfolding a large masi like this requires a lot of space and the team in Aberdeen decided the best place would be the Mitchell Hall in Marischal College. It seemed fitting to use Marischal College as a venue for the big reveal as it was Edward VII who opened the building in 1906.
We quickly realised there was only enough space in the Mitchell Hall to partially unfold the masi in a way that would not damage it.
This still allowed us to get a good sense of the style and pattern. Interestingly, the style was distinctly Samoan with the large hand painted spots on a red-brown rubbed ground.
Earlier in the day the team used the hall to unfold some of the smaller pieces of barkcloth from the Aberdeen University collection, two of which you can see below: