Barkcloth as permeable and perishable substance in Melanesian Ontologies

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This article explores how across the island of New Guinea, barkcloth has functioned as a mediator between humans, their existence, and their environment. Revisiting origin myths and various uses and meanings of barkcloth in New Guinea, it is shown how barkcloth is intimately connected with human ontology, and in particular with human reproduction and death. Focusing on barkcloth as permeable and perishable substance, the paper elucidates how barkcloth effectively shapes, contains and alters human beings. Highlighting the intimate relationship between barkcloth and people’s existence, the paper also discusses some of the changes brought about by colonialism, logging and climate change, and how this might affect both the significance and future of barkcloth.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPacific Arts
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Oct 2020


  • Material Culture
  • Bark cloth
  • Tapa
  • New Guinea
  • Death
  • Ontologies


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