The Tahiti Traveler

The Tifaifai

The polynesian Patchwork

The story of the Tifaifai begins in the 18th century with the introduction of patchwork by the first wives of Protestant missionaries. The Tifaifai (that means « mend » in maori language) is a large cloth that is become a real symbol of polynesian crafts.

The Tifaifai is generally made with two sheets of different colours – sometimes more according to the number of colours desired. The first sheet is the base on which we will graft fabrics cut in the other sheet giving them shapes and patterns. These motifs usually represent the nature and the polynesian life. The Tifaifai is realized in 4 steps : the drawing, the cutting of shapes, the assembling and the couture of fabrics – it is certainly the more delicate and longest stage of creation. The Tifaifai, handcrafted by the Polynesian mamas (old women artisan) is the result of long hours of detailed hard work. These mamas work sometimes together on the same tifaifai to finish it quickly. These creative meetings are called pupu in Maori language; they allow artisans to share their secrets and experiences. The price of Tifaifai may vary by twice according to the complexity and the size of the work. Indeed, some tifaifai may take 6 months to be completed – a backbreaking work combining patience and dexterity.

There are various types of Tifaifai according to the archipelagos. For instance, the tifaifai pû (in mosaic pattern) that is characteristic from the Austral islands is made with small pieces of fabric that form geometric designs: cross, diamond or stars… On the other hand, the tifaifai pa’oti, typically Tahitian is made of patterns of flowers and fruits directly inspired by Mother Nature.

The Tifaifai is a first choice of present that is traditionally offered for special occasions as wedding ceremony or a birth. This is a resistant gift that will symbolize the event to which it is linked. More than a wedding gift, the Tifaifai plays an important role during the traditional wedding ceremony. It is used to cover the newlyweds reminding them their new and main preoccupation: ensure their descendants.

Nowadays, the Tifaifai decorates the polynesian houses in various ways: as a pillowcase, a tablecloth, a bedspread or as a tapestry.

The art of Tifaifai has evolved for 200 years thanks to various cultural events and competitions allowing each artisan to excel in his art. The Tifaifai has become more and more colorful with increased complexity. These events organized around the tifaifai as the « Salon du Tifaifai » are good opportunities for artisans to hand their fabrication secrets down to young craftsmen. Indeed, the tifaifai is a cultural heritage transmitted from mother to daughter before to be a commercial activity.