Introduction to the Omie Tapa Art
This is the official website of the new Omie Cultural Business Inc. a community owned association of all Omie people in Oro Province PNG. This new community group incorporated in March 2018 to give the Omie a newly invigorated start in selling their nioge-tapa to a broader audience.
We offer tapa, painted beaten bark cloth known to the Omie as nioge. This we offer from a variety of artists, some with international reputations, some new. The youngest is 12 years old and she is our first feature artist.
The Omie people are a distinct cultural group with their own language and a series of seven main villages and many more hamlets. With a population of approximately 2200 their tapa art is prolific and diverse, enlivening and transformative. Their region in the Mt Lamington Huvaemo, and Mt Obo foothills close to Kokoda is sacred to them as the site of their creation stories. The Omie first came to the attention of the western visual arts community when the late David Baker a well known collector in Pacific arts first found them and initiated their first exhibition at Annandale Galleries, Sydney in 2006. Since then the Omie have had many international exhibitions thanks to the work of the original co operative venture.
The catastrophic results of firstly World War Two in the Pacific and in their region, then the eruption of My Lamington Huvaemo in 1951 meant that most Omie thought they were being punished. Many thought it was because they were turning away from their old traditions and their ancestors did not like that so they needed to return to custom as best they could. Young men had been leaving their homelands so fewer were available to take part in what was once the most significant event in Omie life, the initiation of young men known as the ujawe, the transition into the adult Omie world. The men decided to increase the flow of cultural knowledge to the women to take up the baton and expand their visual iconography onto their beaten bark cloth tapa as it is now more widely known. When David Baker walked in about 2000 there was already a senior cohort of sophisticated nioge- tapa artists. Thus it became the main expression of Omie Culture and pride and entered the global indigenous arts export market.
Tapa beating and design was originally a women’s art form. It was there in the creation story of the first man and woman. But as needs must the social and cultural ways of the Omie are changing. Now there is not only a surge of younger female artists but some men as well. At first it was mainly the sons of well established female artists. The Omie wanted to and need to expand the interest in and value of their major art form.
The iconography of Omie tapa is extensive, innovative, imaginative and brilliant. It mostly references the natural world around them, but the simple titling of say the bamboo design for example can have much deeper esoteric meanings known only to the older Omie and through creation and other stories from the past. Perhaps the most evident is the transformation of the ancient craft of body tattooing sor’e once performed at initiation. This design once centred around the navel of young men now transformed into a contemporary art form
We welcome you to this new site and hope you will appreciate the wonderland in nioge tapa of the Omie people.
Omie Cultural Business Inc. Executive PNG is in partnership with Joan Winter Baboa Gallery Brisbane Australia.
For for direct with Omie people contact Julia Kimari +675 71755 118 Oro PNG
About Omie nioge - tapa making and design
The older crafts - incising bamboo pipes with elaborate designs and tattooing young male initiates were rapidly disappearing from the 1950s. For several years this century it was still only a women’s art form. However a major painter then taught her son Albert Sirimi who became the first of the male tapa artists. Sons of famous female artists followed as did new younger female artists learning the sartform from their grandmothers and mothers.
Omie tapa or nioge in Omie language is beaten bark cloth, made from the inner bark or bast of certain rainforest fig trees including banyan to give a brown finish, and the paper mulberry tree – mori arobe for the whitish tapa. The bark is cut. The outer bark is cleaned off to make the inner bark or bast ready for beating. Drops of water are continually sprinkled over the bark as it is beaten to soften it. Paint dyes come from various roots, bark, leaves, fruit, seeds and nuts. These include combinations of natural plant materials, ash and water. The English name for these plant parts is not often known. Unusually the Omie use the paper mulberry tree to twist into twine and weave into strings bags – sisira esoe thus giving them the whitish hue. These string bags are unlike any others found in PNG.
Omie identify three main colours red, yellow, black, though there is very significant variation within these so much so that it is believed that the Omie have more colours in their tapa painting than anywhere else in PNG and the whole of the Pacific tapa making nations. Green for example soso is only found with the Omie and is rarely registered as a main colour though it sometimes is. Other colours are most likely to have no word in Omie language such as blue considered a variation of black. For red – birire colour varies from deep plum to bright red, to shades of pink. Red dye or paint is made from fern leaves found near river banks, parts of the bamboo, scrapings of the gore tree bark and ash, squeezed till it becomes a red liquid. Black – barige is made from cooked tulip leaves (Tulip leaf is a green vegetable commonly eaten) with fire ash, wild flat bamboo leaves and a little water. Yellow – are is made from the seeds of the sandalwood tree put into a coconut shell and smashed with a small amount of water till yellow. This can also produce deep rich oranges, browns, mustard colours.
Omie tapa composition is complex and creative. There are three main inspirations – the natural world around them which they see in micro and macro dimensions e.g. grub eggs and mountains; Omie tradition as in ancient historical designs of body tattooing and tobacco pipe design; and their own imaginations. A common binding element for all are the lines threaded through most tapa ore sige considered as pathways, roads, journeying – spiritual, cultural and ethical. Dahoru’e- mountains and or bird beaks are almost always present. Individual clans, clan relationships and family dynamics play a part so that artists tend to stay with one to maybe four related designs learnt from their ancestors. This is evident in many designs such as the ancient body tattooing sor’e once performed at initiation. Different artists may use tattoo designs from different parts of the body as they saw and or inherited it. The belly button tattoo design seems to be the most common. This design can also look like unfurling ferns another common image for the Omie. Maybe the tattoo design originally came from this.
LABELLING OMIE TAPA
In have the first line we have the artist’s name.
Second line establishes date of birth or approximate date if known, then the artist’s clan name. Some artists refer to two clans, that is their birth clan and their marriage clan. Raje means clan. Last on line two is the village they live in now.
Title of works in iltalics comes next. If there is no translation it means that at the time none was given. Many Omie have never been to school and remain non literate. Actual size of the cloth is next followed by any further information.