There are approximately 60 items from the Kingdom of Tonga in the Macleay museum collection. There are a few fine late-19th and early-20th century pieces but the majority of the material dates from the 1980s. Early items include two kato’alu – decorated baskets used in wedding and funeral ceremonies – and a series of delicate kupesi – design tablets for tapa printing. Carefully made of pandanus and stitched coconut leaf mid-ribs, kupesi are traditionally passed down mother-to-daughter in order to preserve particular patterns through the generations.
More recent material includes baskets, bags, tapa and mats. Collected by a past curator of ethnography, this latter part of the collection also includes tools, samples of raw materials such as natural dyes, plant material in various stages of processing and samples which document and help to explain how the important arts of tapa and mat production are carried out in Tonga.
The Macleay holds a very small number of historical images from Tonga as part of its Historic Photograph collections. These photos are thought to date from late 19th century.