Queen Elizabeth II Participating – Fijian Mats
The Fijian mats and tapa cloths in the hiapo or procession of Elizabeth II were made from the bark of the mulberry tree (Fijian mats) and processed Pandanus leaves (tapa cloths). The procession occurred sometime between 1953-1954 during the royal tour of Queen Elizabeth II after she had ascended the throne in the Pacific nation, the Kingdom of Tonga (Fijian society), in Fiji. These mats and tapa cloths given as gifts in the procession were woven for Queen Elizabeth II to help the Fijian people show that they acknowledged the Queen’s superiority and that they were loyal to her and grateful for her.
The Fijian mats and tapa cloths were skillfully woven by women. They are adorned with intricate and distinctive patterns of concentric circles, triangles, spirals, and several other geometric shapes. The women of Fijian society greatly prided themselves with completing the arduous task of weaving and were eager to present their works to people they deemed important. In fact, one particular mat, the 75 foot ngatu mat, was made from countless hours of labor and diligent work on detailed patterns specifically for Queen Elizabeth II herself. It was made for her because it connected her to another one of their previous leaders, Queen Salote Tapou, who was likewise a significant figure in their society.
Also, Queen Elizabeth II participating in the traditional and sacred ritual of gift giving to the authority was the Fijian peoples’ way of commemorating and celebrating her joyous visit to their island. During the presentation, not only was Elizabeth II given the unique tapa cloths and mats, but she was also given other goods for her acquisition, such as food and a special tortoise called Tu’i Malila. She took part in the Kava ceremony as well, in which she took a sip from the “kava” drink that indicates power. All these valuables, especially the prized tapa cloths and mats, and ceremonies that the Fijian people gave and did for the Queen was used to express her importance to them and the huge amount of respect they had for her.
The difficult patterns and several hours of labor that is put into making these tapa cloths and mats greatly shows that the Fijian people put in much effort to make these gifts because they admired the Queen as a supreme and prominent leader as well as a significant member of their society. Also, the fact that the Fijian women made and presented the Queen with a tapa mat that not only took so much work to make but also relates to one of their former Queens supports the fact that they thought of the Queen as very high in importance and status and that they treated her with the amount of loyalty that they had shown with their previous leaders. The Fijian people were very excited for Queen Elizabeth II to visit their island so they performed this unique and specific ritual ceremony especially for her arrival. The other goods given to the Queen further add onto how thankful they are that she has come and how they want to give her these gifts to show that they acknowledge her royal presence. Their dedication seen in the tapa cloths and mats themselves and the entire presentation ceremony conveys how they believed the Queen was an important figure in society that needed to be respected.
The All-T’oqapu Tunic is similar to the Fijian mats and tapa cloths in terms of its form, function, and the way it was made. The All-T’oqapu Tunic has numerous intricate patterns and variations adorning it, and they are very geometric in character. This is similar to the use of geometry in the shapes and concentric circles woven into the detailed patterns of the tapa cloths and mats. Also, the All-T’oqapu Tunic was created to be worn by those of very high status in Incan society as the dyes and amazing designs used in the tunics were only allowed to be worn by high ranking peoples, such as the Incan army. Likewise, the Fijian mats and tapa cloths were woven especially for Queen Elizabeth II who was their ruler, of high authority, and considered one of the most important people in their society. Lastly, the All-T’oqapu Tunic was produced by women who specialized in weaving fine cloth called acllas or “chosen women”. Similarly, the Fijian mats and tapa cloths were created by the hard working and skilled women of Fijian society.