Tifaifai in Tahiti: Embracing Change


From Uncoverings 2014, Volume 35 of the Research Papers of the American Quilt Study Group


By: Hammond, Joyce D.

Abstract: Tīfaifai are colorful appliqué and piecework textiles of French Polynesia which, like similar regional Pacific forms with different names, originated during the early- to mid-nineteenth century from the combined influence of indigenous barkcloth traditions and introduced Western quilts. Today, Polynesian women (and some men) continue to create these highly valued and culturally important textiles. Over the past thirty years, the tīfaifai tradition has undergone efflorescence and significant transformation. This article begins with a history of tīfaifai, demonstrating innovation as a guiding principle in the tradition’s inception and history. Next, underlying factors for change in tīfaifai and their creation over the past thirty years are examined and a discussion of specific adaptations and innovations follows. In the conclusion, I argue that change is integral to the tīfaifai tradition and welcomed so long as core values are retained. Research was conducted over a seven-month period in 2013, primarily on the island of Tahiti in the Society Islands.

Joyce D. Hammond is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, where she has taught for thirty years. In 1978---1979, she spent a year in the Eastern Pacific researching the regional forms of Polynesian quilts and quilt-like textiles of the Hawaiian, Cook, Society and Austral Islands. Tī​faifai and Quilts of Polynesia, now out of print, was published in 1986 by the University of Hawaii Press. A return visit to Tahiti in 2010 and a 2011 rendezvous with Tīfaifai makers in California led to Joyce's 2013 seven-month sabbatical in the Society Islands, where she focused on the changes that tīfaifai textiles and tīfaifai makers have undergone in the past three decades.