My Cook Islands – The Tivaivai

16 Apr

Tivaivai (pronounced tea vi vi) is a form of art at which Polynesian women excel. Tivaivai means to stitch or sew and Cook Islands women make magnificent bed covers called tivaivai.

I grew up watching the women in my family making these beautiful bedspreads in particular my beloved grandmother who would sit for hours embroidering.  My love for art stems from the beauty and colours captured in the designs of the tivaivai that she created although at the time as a small child I did not realise this.

My Grandma Rimatapeka Poaiti - Patchwork Tivaivai

Patchwork Tivaivai - by my My Grandma Rimatapeka

The tivaivai are either made by one woman or can be created in groups of women called vainetini. The vainetini use this time together to bond, sing and catch up on village news.

The inspiration for the art is taken from nature and their family.  You will generally see flowers, fruit, animals, land and water.

By custom, a tivaivai is not measured by monetary value nor production cost. Its value is said to be reflected by the love and patience that the creator(s) have put into making a stunning work of art. Cook Islands women often described their tivaivai as being “something from the heart.”

Aunty Metu Poaiti - Two tone Tivaivai

Two tone Tivaivai - by my Aunty Metu

Tivaivai are often given on very special occasions either to important visitors, as birthday and wedding gifts or used to cover the body of a loved one who has died. They are often displayed during important events like the traditional boys’ hair cutting ceremonies, birthdays and weddings.

The tivaivai’s origins are uncertain. Rongokea (1992) believes it to be an imported art form, and cites two sets of Christian missionaries in the 19th century as possible origins.

My Grandma Rimatapeka Poaiti - Unfinished piece for a Tivaivai

Unfinished piece for a Tivaivai - by my Grandma Rimatapeka

It is widely believed that while the Cook Islands women may have gotten the idea of making quilts from early Christian women, they have taken it to extraordinary heights and developed it into a unique artform that is beautiful to behold.

Information from


2 Responses to “My Cook Islands – The Tivaivai”

  1. betty zhang April 27, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    fascinating art works, your grandma is a true artist. I especially like the second one – patch work. Great color!

  2. Charlotte May 27, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    I really like your arts works… It´s amazing u need to continueee make another one. It´s really help me in my arts homework. I really love the first onee but trying to make one with the bluee colourr. IT´S GREATT !

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