Glossary for AP Content Area 9: The Pacific

A glossary of basic terminology that is often used in discussions about art of the Pacific.

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literally, “red garments,” these are cloaks and capes worn by Hawaiian male nobility

Oceania feather cape

Feather cape, probably before 1850 C.E., Hawaii

ahu stone platform, such as those found associated with moai on Easter Island
atoll an atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef including a coral rim that encircles a lagoon partially or completely
bark cloth sometimes called tapa, barkcloth is found throughout the Pacific (although in some places today it has almost disappeared). It has different local names as well, such as kapa in Hawai’i and siapo in Samoa. It is made from the bark of the dye-fid or paper mulberry tree, and can be decorated with patterns. It has been used in a number of different ways, including as clothing or to wrap sacred objects (such as “god staffs” in the Cook Islands).
basalt a type of volcanic stone
Buk a type of mask

Mask (Buk), Torres Strait, Mabuiag Island, mid to late 19th century,turtle shell, wood, cassowary feathers, fiber, resin, shell, paint, 21 1/2 inches high (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City)

Mask (Buk), Torres Strait, Mabuiag Island, mid to late 19th century

Captain Cook first European person to the South Pacific islands in the late 1700s
hiapo early Niuean bark cloth (see bark cloth above too)
i’iwi bird red feathered bird; feathers used for Hawaiian ceremonial feather cloaks
Kava ceremony kava is a type of tee that comes from the Kava root. The drink is sipped by community members in order of their rank in the Fijian community.
Lapita People first inhabitants of Polynesia who share roots with Australian natives
Malangan refers to one or more intricate carvings from the island of New Ireland in Papua New Guinea. These carvings may take the form of a mask, a wooden board or “frieze,” a sturdy house pole, a circular, woven mat, or a scaled model of a dugout canoe with or without human figures inside

Funerary Carving (Malagan), late 19th–early 20th century, Papua New Guinea, New Ireland, New Ireland, wood, 280.7 x 87.6 x 26.7 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Funerary Carving (Malagan), late 19th–early 20th century, Papua New Guinea, New Ireland

Nan-Maldol Once the political and ceremonial center for the ruling chiefs of the Sau Deleur dynasty (c. 1100–1628), Nan Madol is a complex of close to 100 artificial rectilinear islets spread over 200 acres that are thought to have housed up to 1000 people.
Māori peoples native to New Zealand
mattang navigation charts used to train future navigators among peoples of the Pacific Islands. Such charts depict general information about swell movements around one or more small islands.

Navigation chart (mattang), probably 19th or early 20th century C.E., Marshall Islands, Micronesia, 75.5 cm © Trustees of the British Museum

Navigation chart (mattang), probably 19th or early 20th century C.E., Marshall Islands, Micronesia

meddo or rebbelib Navigation chart used for memory not directions; often cover either a large section or all of the Marshall Islands. Other charts show a smaller area.
Melanesia refers to a region of the western Pacific that includes the islands and island groups of Fiji, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu
Micronesia A region of the Pacific Islands that includes more than 2,100 islands, including the Marshall Islands, Guam, and Kiribati
Moai stone statues built by the first people who came to Easter Island and embody the ancestors who first came. Many are toppled today.

moai of Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Moai of Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

moko an intricate facial tattoo among the Māori
New Ireland a small island of the southwestern Pacific, just south of the equator; part of Papua New Guinea
Polynesian Triangle stretches from Hawai’i in the north to Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the south, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east
Rapa Nui original name of Easter Island
a natural object or animal that is believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and that is adopted by it as an emblem
tapa cloth made of bark usually put together by women and worn or hung for special occasions

Masi (tapa cloth), likely used as a room divider, Fiji, date unknown, 300 x 428 cm (Te Papa, New Zealand)

Masi (tapa cloth), likely used as a room divider, Fiji

tino aitu stones, pieces of wood or wooden figurines that represent local deities in Nukuoro
taonga tuku iho treasures passed down from Māori ancestors, which are treated with great care and reverence
Torres Strait a strait between Australia and New Guinea, and which includes more than 270 islands now known as the Torres Strait Islands
Tridacna shell blades a genus of large saltwater clams, sometimes used as blades in tools
wharenui the central building of the Māori community center

* Thank you to Zoe Joyner for her help preparing this glossary.

Cite this page as: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Glossary for AP Content Area 9: The Pacific," in Smarthistory, November 1, 2021, accessed July 19, 2024,
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