The production of kapa bark cloth was a major industry in premodern Hawaii. Once Hawaii was opened to the outside world (1778 and onwards), was kapa exported from Hawaii? Was it a significant trade good, or was it simply a curiosity?

Wikipedia says (at present):

After the European discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, Western traders travelled to Hawaiʻi especially for kapa.

but there's no source.

1 Answer 1


According to Center for Labor Education & Research website of University of Hawai‘i, it mentions that it was for as currency:

With the arrival of Western traders and businessmen, native Hawaiian resources like kapa bark cloth and the highly prized and fragrant ‘iliahi, sandalwood, soon became the currency supporting a new island economy. By 1827, though, the reigning monarch, King Kamehameha III was faced with a burgeoning trade deficit and many personal debts. To meet this crisis he was forced to decree that every man would be assessed a picul of sandalwood and every woman, not infirm or decrepit, a 12 feet by six feet kapa mat.

At his command loyal maka‘āinana laboriously depleted the aged sandalwood forests to such an extent that this slow-growing tree was nearly eradicated. As the sandalwood trade exhausted, it was soon replaced by the demands of the whaling industry. Sailors wanted fresh vegetables, sturdy kapa for ship repair, and young, able-bodied men to fill out their crews.

So based on this authority I would not say it was merely a 'curiosity'. Further reading here.

and here.

  • To clarify, tapa cloth was used for patching sails - not as durable as canvas, but it's hard to find cotton in the middle of the Pacific. Trying to run down an online source for this now... Commented Aug 20, 2013 at 12:57

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