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Preserving art

Maneesha Karan
Tuesday, December 28, 2010

TUCKED away in the Hidden Paradise, Mereoni Tadulala, 41, wants to do her utmost to be the keeper of a traditional knowledge passed down through generations.

A staff member of Daku Resort in Savusavu, Ms Tadulala's most valuable skill is that of tapa painting.

She acquired the basics of beating tapa and creating the special paint from her mother.

"I have been creating this art since I was a teenager and am very proud of this skill," she said.

"I believe in keeping culture alive and passing it down to the younger generation because culture helps identify oneself, and it also makes a person and the community beautiful."

Ms Tadulala uses paint made out of mangrove bark.

"We take out the outer skin of the mangrove bark and use the softer part of the bark, which is soaked overnight in water.

"The following morning, the liquid from the bark is squeezed out and boiled until the liquid becomes thick and sticky.

"Liquid cannot be used on tapa alone, so we dip a paint brush into the mangrove liquid and dip the same brush into powdered charcoal, then brush the paint over the stencil on tapa."

Ms Tadulala said tools of her trade have changed with time with those who practise it giving up banana and pandanus leaves, which they would heat and cut designs from using bamboo pieces, for pencils, cutters, knives and used X-ray films.

Ms Tadulala has been involved in this income-generating activity for more than 10 years.

She said orders had been pouring in since the beginning of the holidays.

"The orders depend on the size of groups visiting the resort," she said.

"The largest group I have received an order from so far was a 28-member group.

"Sometimes a member places two to four orders each because they want to take it home for decorations or to give friends and relatives and some like to take a souvenir back to hang in their office."

Ms Tadulala sells a piece for $25. At times she completes the art at 2am or 3am.

"This art is inexpensive to me because I have all the material I need but it can be time-consuming," she said.

"The young ones should learn because firstly it helps keep culture alive and secondly, it is a revenue earner for unemployed village youths,

The owner of Daku Resort, Dilian Jones said Ms Tadulala's work which included conducting tapa-making classes contributed to the preservation of traditional Fijian culture and the promotion of the unique culture to visitors from around the world.

"The painting teacher is a resort staff who not only teaches the guests about tapa making and colour painting but also informs the participants the significance of the art, and a bit more broadly on the village culture," Ms Jones said.

"She was a bit shy in the beginning but now the class is a piece of cake for her.

"She uses humour and allows the participants to have a go at the painting.

"Women make up most of the participation group and many of them were surprised to find tapa painting difficult."

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