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This little girl is wearing a traditional dress made entirely from masi.

The intriguingly beautiful paper-like cloth you are likely to encounter while visiting Fiji is called Masi Kesa. Masi is a hundred percent natural fabric that is made from the bark of Mulberry trees. It is hand-beaten into pulp, then coloured with natural dyes.

All of Fijis fourteen provinces produce this special cloth, each with regional differences but it is the islands Vatulele and Ono-I-Lau in particular that are famous for some of the best Masi around.

This special earthy cloth is also commonly known by its Tongan name Tapa. Call it what you like, masi appears in many forms.

Unbleached in traditional garlands and stencilled with ancient Fijian patterns in black and brown, this versatile fabric has multiple uses.

If you are lucky enough to witness a traditional Fijian wedding or if you should choose to have yourself, you will find both bride and groom wrapped in the raw cloth. This special cloth is presented when a child is born and it is also offered to the bereaved during funerals.

Masi plays an important role in local handicraft. You will find large swatches of the stencilled variety at handicraft centres and stores that make beautiful wall hangings.

It also appears as special packaging for locally produced products such as coconut soap and cosmetics. Some local designers have taken Masi a step further and are employing this versatile fabric in western style garments.

Special care has to be taken though when handling items with Masi as the material frays easily and is best if dry-cleaned. You will also find the same patterns that appear on Masi on regular cloth.

Over the years, these prints have become a permanent fixture on the local fashion scene, much like the ubiquitous hibiscus print Bula shirts or Aloha shirts as they call them in Hawaii.

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