Indigenous People of the Pacific Islands

Many scientists are looking for alternatives to leather, because of it’s scarcity, ethics, food cost, and water use. The ancient peoples of Africa, South America, and the Pacific had similar challenges, and they found a solution: Barkcloth. Barkcloth is similar to animal leather in texture and design, but it is made from the bark of trees. This makes it low in water use, and both plentiful and ethical. In Hawaii, this cloth was called kapa. It is made by taking bark and pounding it into sheets. Then the cloth is stamped and dyed, often with bamboo, to adorn it with meaningful geometric symbols.

An example of barkcloth.

Hawaii is in the middle of the pacific ocean.

A small sampling of pattern meanings in Kapa.

An array of the geometric algorithms used in Kapa.

Scientists are starting to catch on. The new company, Mycoworks, creates leather from mushrooms. The patterns (in this case diamonds and circles) are put into plastic sheets, and the mushrooms (a tough species that grows on trees) grow into the pattern spaces. Other new plant-based leathers have been created from the leftover waste after fruit is harvested, such as stems and leaves. These come from pineapple, banana, and grape plants.