Upon our arrival on Rarotonga the heat was overwhelming. The need for a bed sheet or worse, a blanket, was unthinkable. While the heat has moderated, we are not rummaging for a blanket just yet.
The idea of a quilt, tivaevae, seems functionally useless. However, as a result of the influx of missionaries to the Cook Islands, the activity, while not environmentally astute, became a major art form. It also became a center sense for women adding a major force for women’s communal growth.
Tivaevae is the making of patchwork quilts by hand by several women together. The designs are stunning. They have great intrinsic value and become family heirlooms. They are often given as gifts of love and friendship.
There are two principal techniques: Piecework and appliqué.
Piecework – Tivaevae tataura – is made from tiny pieces of colored cloth sewn together on a backing. Tataura is made in several colors on a contrasting background. The pattern is created from separate pieces of fabric which may be richly embroidered either beforehand or onto the background fabric.
Appliqué – Tivaevae manu – usually involve two colors, the first for the pattern, the second for the background. Tivaevae manu are made in only two colors, the pattern is folded four or eight times, cut and stitched onto a contrasting base cloth.
Despite its European origin, patterns and techniques have evolved into styles which now belong quite distinctly to the Cook Islands. The tivaevae reflect the women’s surroundings and usually employ designs of flowers, leaves, birds, fish, insects and animals.
Tivaevae are usually made for family members but they may be given away outside the family. For example, tivaevae are often presented to visiting dignitaries and church ministers.
Tivaevae are traditionally given as a gift at the Pakotianga Rauru, a traditional ceremony for boys between 5 and 21. The boy’s hair, uncut since birth is plaited, tied with ribbons, and then cut at this ceremony.
On Rarotonga’s neighbor island, Aitutaki, it is traditional for a bride and groom to ride from village to village in the back of a pick-up truck gathering wedding gifts which many times includes a tivaevae.
Above – Aitutaki
- Tivaevae are used as a source for other art forms such as this hooked rug adapted from Cook Islands Tivaevae from Mill River Rugs