Tongan Kupesi Design: Aotapu - Turbans of the Tongan Empire

    Tongan Kupesi Design: Aotapu - Turbans of the Tongan Empire

    Tongan Kupesi Design: Aotapu - Turbans of the Tongan Empire



    I was seated on the beach, a tree branch hanging overhead, and thinking about the old Tongan kingdom and their wars. The sea breeze stilled as a screen slowly dropped down from the branch and started playing a memory of mine.

                I watched with intrigue as I saw myself with my Tongan Kupesi Workshop Facilitator. She showed me on her laptop a Tongan cultural kupesi motif called, Aotapu. She that the Tongan word ao translated in English as turban worn in war by a champion and the tapu translated to the word sacred.

                The kupesi motif was a circle inside a square with the lines representing the coconut fibres joining in the middle. When they are placed next to each other, an elaborate diamond-shaped pattern is apparent.

    She told me the turbans were sewn together with coconut husk fibres in times of war.

    Through the eyes of an artist, I saw how the circle could be a birds-eye view of the warrior and the coconut flowers sewing the turban together.

                The screen rolled back up into the branch as I was left looking at the blue ocean in my vision. The waters lapped gently onto the white coral shores of the beach.

                I never knew such Polynesian wars existed or even that they wore turbans.

                Watching the waves crash over the reef, where the coral joined the shore in the sparkling blue water, I saw the ghost-like outline of a traditional Tongan warship. Made up of light shades of grey, it had two canoes joined with planks of wood, and I could still see the water through the grey transparency. The sail moved in the wind, and it drifted past.

                The screen emerged from the branch again and started playing a YouTube video called Polynesian Discovery. I remembered seeing it before as it said the woven mats on the floors of people’s houses were used as sails in the time of the Tu’i Tongan Empire, which conquered countries Samoa, Fiji and other neighbouring islands.

    Feeling the sand under me, the image of the short film faded into a screen of Wikipedia. Reading the projection, I saw the Tu’i Tongan Empire started in 950 CE and ended in 1865 CE.

    There was also an account of Captain Cook in 1777, which I noticed mentioned many foreigners in Tonga, especially the darker people from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. It said in 1616, when the Dutch explorer William Schouten and Jacob Le Maire had spotted Tonga in a canoe off the coast of Niuatoputapu.

    The screen gently rose back into the branch. It amazed me how much I didn’t know about the Tu’i Tongan Empire or the kupesi motif Aotapu.