I'd seen visuals of Hawaian quilts but I wasn't aware of the term Tifaifai. While perusing blogs this afternoon I came across the Pomegranate Tifaifai which Dijanne Cevaal is in the process of creating, this prompted me to wander the web in search of Tifaifai.
This is some of what I found.
A “tifaifai” (pronounced: tea-fae-fae) is the Tahitian version of a quilt and is an integral part of Polynesia's home and heritage. The tifaifai is similar to a quilt in that the patterns are appliquéd to a background fabric. Since the climate in Tahiti remains temperate year round, tifaifai are made from lightweight fabric (as opposed to heavy quilt designs) that is intricately appliquéd and hemmed around the edges.
The history of the tifaifai is not entirely clear, but its roots have been traced to the arrival of missionaries in the late 1700's. During that time, sailors from the Dutch East India Company allegedly wooed young Tahitian women with Scherenschnitte, a signature pattern made by folding paper in eighths, then diagonally to make a triangle. Next, certain areas of the triangle would be cut (or torn) to create a snowflake pattern when unfolded, and given to the young girl as a memento. It is believed that the snowflake pattern design now seen on Tahitian tifaifai was influenced by these early Dutch sailors' gifts. Tahitians began creating colorful tifaifai designs based on the snowflake design.
Tradition held that once a tifaifai pattern was used, that pattern was to either be destroyed or passed on to a family member. That family member could only use the design if he or she added a signature design to it and gave it a new name.Overtime, Tahitian tifaifai evolved and the designs became larger in physical size, yet the process of folding into eighths was abandoned for folding into fourths. (By contrast, Hawaiians still fold fabric into eights when making Hawaiian quilts.) This difference in design is key in determining the origin of a particular tifaifai.