Notes towards a mural #5

“[118] The Aute.

Notwithstanding there being no tradition of the importation of the aute or paper mulberry (Morus papyrifera) to New Zealand, we must admit that this shrub, which is not found in a wild state, had been introduced by the agency of man, previous to the time of Captain Cook’s voyages, but the plant seemingly had died out before the coming of the British colonists. In Hawke’s Bay a place is known by the name of Te Aute (the paper mulberry), as if this plant had been grown at this place in times long passed. In Banks’ Diary, at page 206, we find, under date of 4th December, 1769, “After this they showed us a great rarity—six plants of what they called aouta, from whence they make cloth like that of Otahite. The plant proved exactly the same, as the name is the same (aouta)—Morus papyrifera (Lin.). The same plant is used by the Chinese to make paper. Whether the climate does not well agree with it I do not know, but they seemed to value it very much. That it was very scarce among them I am inclined to believe, as we have not yet seen among them pieces large enough for use, but only bits sticking into the holes of their ears” (i.e., holes made in the lobe of the ear). From the fact that only five plants of the paper mulberry were seen, and that these few plants were greatly valued by their owners, we might be justified in supposing that these rare plants had only lately been brought to New Zealand from the Pacific islands, and that they were never in such plenty as would enable the Maori to fabricate the tapa cloth.—Taylor White.

[There can be no doubt that the aute was brought here by the Maoris. The climate, however, not being suitable, it gradually died out. It was used in delicate filaments to bind the hair in more recent times, but formerly as clothing, which the proverb shows—Te aute te whawhea, &c. It is not a common plant even in Polynesia.—Editors.]”

[source] An entry on aute in NZ, in case it proves useful in the future. There is poetry in this fabric – its rarity, the kinds of technologies that would have to come into play to make it work in NZ’s climate, and the (fairly vain) hope that it can create some sort of industry to help Pacific Islanders survive. I’m hoping it can allow me a sort of “transportable” wall, or perhaps due to expense I’ll be constrained to canvas.

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