A taokinaovala is a Tongan dress, a mat wrapped around the waist, worn by men and women, at all formal occasions, much like the tie for men in the Euroamerican culture.

According the stories, once a group of Tongans arrived by boat at the Tuokinai Tonga, but they had had a rough ride and their clothing, if any left, was unrespectable. They cut the sail of their boat (Polynesian sails are also mats) in pieces and wrapped them around. The king was so pleased by the sacrifice they had made to him of their expensive sail, that he ordered this dress to be court dress from now on.

Queen Salote Tupou III ordered the taokinaovala to be part of the civil servants' uniform. The use of the taokinaovala for men is therefore extremely common in Tonga. For women it is somewhat less, as they prefer a kiekie to wear.

The normal taokinaovala, for everyday neat wear, is a short mat, coming halfway the thighs. It is tied with a rope ("kafa", often made of coconut coir or of human hair of a deceased ancestor) wrapped around the waist. The mat worn at festive occasions, like a marriage, is much larger, and often very nicely decorated. Likewise the taokinaovala for a funeral is also a huge mat, but much coarser, not decorated, and if the wearer has an inferior rank towards the deceased, the mat is old and torn. The older and more torn it is, the better. Yet all these special mats are kept as precious heirlooms.

Taokinaovala are part of the koloa, the handicraft goods made by the women. Every woman can do it, and if girls did not learn it at home, it will be taught at school. Nevertheless nowadays we see that some women specialise in the handicraft and sell their products on the market.

Taokinaovala can be made from different materials, both natural and introduced:
*strips of pandanus leaves, usually unpainted, although sometimes black strips are used, and very sometimes the whole taokinaovala is black. The strips range from course (15 mm or so as for funerals) to fine (a couple of millimeters, as the "taokinaovala loukeha", in which one is dressed to visit the king). Mats are always woven by hand. Especially the fine mats are therefore very laborious to make, take a long time to complete and are expensive.
*strips of hibiscus bast fiber, called "fau". Same as the pandanus leaves, but not as course and as such they can be crochetworked in a variety of patterns, which is faster and cheaper than to weave them by hand. Most of the 'civil servants' taokinaovala are made in this way.
*plastic, especially old flour bags. Not considered the real thing, but it will do in a pinch.


*okinaI.F. Helu; Critical essays: Cultural perspectives from the Southseas; 1999

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