April 13, 2015

Christian Missionaries Changed the way Polynesian's Dressed, and Housewives too.

I am dreaming about making myself a new dress-- a muumuu.  Some people think they are 'moo moo's' like big and ugly dresses for big women.  But I look at them as comfortable airy dresses.  Living in the hot South, I welcome the idea!  I ordered and received some beautiful Hawaiian fabric, so I did some research into what kind of muumuu I wanted.  I learned a lot-- I'd love to share what I learned since it is so interesting.

Protestant missionaries first went to the Polynesian islands in the early 1800's to preach Christianity.  They were appalled to see the natives  wearing very little clothing, due to the hot climate and lack of fabric.  Remember that they were pretty isolated from the world on their islands in the Pacific and only had leaves and flowers, and some rudimentary fabric they made out of fibers from wauke trees.  Men wore simple loincloths and women wore hula skirts.  Only native vegetation like flowers and leaves adorned the upper half of a woman's body.

Imagine a Mormon missionary coming to teach about the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people walking around dressed like that!  The missionaries immediately made up dresses that covered the women up as much as possible.  They were like plain tents with just something around the neck to hold them up.  They were called 'Mother Hubbard' dresses in America and Europe.  Now the missionaries could concentrate on teaching the natives about Jesus.

Tahitian women wearing Mother Hubbard dresses, taken between 1880 -1889.  Photo courtesy of the French National Library.  Note how they look more 'Tahitian' and less plain.
Over the years, the Polynesians  adapted these dresses to their tastes by using brightly colored fabrics.  They loved these dresses!  They were cool and comfortable and airy.  Different names were given to them on each of the Polynesian islands, and Hawaiians called them 'holoku.'  Over time, Holoku became more ornate with trains and fancy embellishment.  They wore them to ceremonies and special events.  A simpler dress for everyday wear became known as a 'Muumuu.'  It is now the trademark dress for Hawaiians.

This just goes to show you that an idea can have far reaching effects.  Those Protestant missionaries had no idea that they would create a fashion phenomenon  when they attempted to cover up the half-naked natives in the Polynesian Islands.  Now muumuu's are part of the culture of Hawaii, a trademark.  Millions of people have worn and continue to wear muumuu's.  

Vivian Dennis made muumuu's practical and easy for everyone to make.
As an aside, in the 1970's and 1980's, main-landers began wearing muumuu's around the house.  A woman named Vivian Dennis taught people how to make simple muumuu's out of just a single piece of fabric and a few seams.  She made a lot of women happy by simplifying the process.  Here's the pattern she drew for people who visited the fabric store where she sold Hawaiian print fabrics.  This looks so comfortable and airy!  And easy to make.

Pattern by Vivian Dennis
Use 45 inch wide fabric.
Measure length from shoulder to floor and double the length for fabric required.
The sketch measurements are about right for a size 18, but can be adjusted to your requirements.  Simply move positioning of the side seams (stitch line between points I and II) in toward the center to suit your figure.  
Neck can be made higher or lower by adjusting the cutting line.
Facing for neck can be secured from fabric remaining when lower corners are rounded off.  Piece if necessary.
Before cutting, fold fabric lengthwise then widthwise. 
Stitch shoulder seams.  Normal seam allowance is 5/8". 
Face neck.
Stitch side seams  between I and II on right side.
Round off lower corners as shown.
Make a shirt tail hem around all remaining raw edges.

Pattern found at The Evening Independent, Newspaper, St. Petersburg, Florida.  11 July 1981, pg. 3B.  Article written by Hazel Geissler.  Web page news.google.com.

Wikipedia:  Mother Hubbard Dress and Muumuu