Barkcloth jacket from the Indian Ocean

Contributed by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Barkcloth jacket from the Indian Ocean

This jacket is made of the inner bark of a small fruit tree (Locally "Lanop"; botanical name Celtis) that grows in the Nicobar Islands. It was given to Kew in 1881 as an example of barkcloth, similar to the tapa cloth of the Pacific.

The heavily folded jacket was treated in 2006 by Konstantinos
Chatziantoniou, a student at the Textile Conservation Centre. His work has revealed a handsome late Victorian men's jacket, European in every respect except for its materials.

The jacket was given to Kew by Edward Horace Man (1846-1929), a pioneer anthropologist of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Inkstains and traces of wear suggest this was Man's personal clothing.

Man represented different facets of the British Empire; on the one hand, an official representative and magistrate; on the other, a critical observer of attempts to assimilate the native peoples of the Islands. The jacket is both a document of an indigenous culture (barkcloth) and of an encounter with empire (the Victorian official in his reefer jacket) that was to prove disastrous for that culture. Catalogue number EBC 43508.

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