This is not a grass skirt: On fibre skirts (liku) and female tattooing (veiqia) in nineteenth century Fiji

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The Pacific ‘grass skirt’ has provoked debates about the derogatory and sexualised depiction of Pacific bodies that needed to be covered up and it has inspired a market of kitsch curiosa and tiki culture. These stereotypical portrayals will be challenged in this book through the case study of liku (‘grass’/fibre skirts) worn by women in nineteenth century Fiji by uncovering the complex use and meaning of the garments themselves, including their link to other body adornments and modifications. In nineteenth century Fiji, the liku was a lifetime companion for women. Fitted around puberty after she received her qia (tattooing) and kept after death, a liku was perpetual – alterations and adaptations through marriage and maternity indicating its multiplicity of social functions. Today, liku and qia are no longer worn or made in the same way – a result of missionary and colonial influence, but also of the strategic use of western dress by Fijian elite. By following a micro-historical approach, this book highlights the multifarious ways of looking at dress by considering the liku’s and qia’s connection with the female body, by considering its interpretation during collecting encounters and its classification in museums and archives. As well as considering the materiality of liku and their intimate relationship to female bodies, liku will thus be analysed as museum objects and drawings of qia, tattooing, as archival documents. This allows for tracing the representation of liku and qia through different regimes of value and through time and place. Recently, liku and qia inspired a group of Fijian curators and contemporary artists to create their own representations in exhibitions in New Zealand (2015) and Fiji (2017).
The questions and issues raised have a wider relevance since these highlight the intricacies of intercultural encounters, varying perceptions of dress and modesty and the significance of cultural heritage and its reawakening today. This book is based on a thorough systematic investigation of hundreds of, previously unstudied, liku in a variety of museums. Unpublished archival material includes original 19th and 20th century drawings by non-Fijians and Fijian women of weniqia, tattoo patterns, which will be an important source in the light of current re-engagement with tattooing in Fiji.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherSidestone Press
Number of pages168
ISBN (Print)9789088908125
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2019

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