The Maori - Volume II
XIX Textile Arts
XIX Textile Arts
Primitive Polynesian artifacts and methods—The two garments of Maoriland—Bark cloth of Polynesia—Search for a new material—The “woven cloth” of Juan Fernandez—Remarks of early voyagers—Modes of wearing garments—Garments of women—Children naked to the four winds—The House of Weaving—Ceremonial instruction in art of weaving—Charms recited—A tapu performance—The moon goddess patroness of the art of weaving—The highly useful Phormium plant—Preparation of fibre—Rolled twine—Use of dyes—Weaving a woman's task—Other materials employed by weavers—Superior cloaks—Dog skin capes—Feather capes—Belts—Sandals—Introduction of European garments—How the Maori wore them—Floor mats—Baskets—Twine and cordage—Modes of plaiting.
We have now to consider the various arts pertaining to the manufacture of clothing, as also of mats, baskets and belts, as practised by the Maori in pre-European days. The crude method of weaving employed by the Maori folk is yet another proof of the long isolation of the Polynesian race in the isles of the Pacific. It is one of many primitive usages, processes and institutions preserved by these islanders in their sea-girt homes down the changing centuries. It is the fact of these survivals of crude usages having been so preserved down to our own time that makes Polynesian technology such an interesting study.
A brief notice may be taken of the clothing of the Mouriuri folk, the original inhabitants of the North Island. According to Maori tradition they wore nothing but a girdle of leaves during the summer, but in winter they wore coarse capes, rough fabrics fashioned from the fibrous leaves of Phormium, Freycinetia and Cordyline.
We have noted the Maori habit of assigning his various activities, industries, etc., to certain “houses,” and, in connection with our present subject, we find that the arts of weaving and kindred processes all come within the term Whare pora. This may be rendered as “the house of weaving,” but it must not be understood as a house set apart for that purpose, inasmuch as no such house existed.
The terms kaka, kakahu, weru, weruweru and puweru all denote garments, clothing in general, but in many cases kakahu is applied to superior garments only, while rough, inferior ones are styled puweru and weruweru. Kilts are called paki and rapaki, each kind having a distinctive name. There is no generic term including all capes and cloaks for covering the upper part of the body, so far as I am aware, but each of the many kinds has its own name. Belts are termed tatua and whitiki, while the maro worn by men may be described as a breech clout, as it was drawn in between the legs and did not hang down like the kilt, as the maro worn by women did.
When the ancestors of the Maori came hither from the isles of Polynesia they had at once to consider the question of clothing, to seek a new material wherefrom to fabricate garments. They had come from lands possessing a much warmer climate than that of New Zealand, and where the so-called bark cloth made from the bark of the aute, or paper mulberry, was to them a sufficient covering. In the much colder climate of these isles it was found necessary to seek a more suitable page 506 material for garments. Moreover, the aute was not found here, and when introduced it did not flourish. Native tradition tells us that a form of cloth was made locally from the inner bark of the whauwhi, or “lace-bark” tree, but this was probably but a temporary substitute. The immigrants were fortunate in finding fibrous materials here wherefrom to fabricate garments. They found in the flax a suitable fibre that was obtainable in almost every district.
As to the peculiar style of weaving (so-called) employed by the Maori I am not aware as to whether the art was introduced from Polynesia, evolved here by the Maori, or acquired from the aboriginal folk. The same method has been employed by barbaric folk of other lands, and such fabrics are sometimes described as “tied cloth” by anthropologists. At the same time the ordinary clothing of the natives of southern and eastern Polynesia certainly consisted of bark fabrics, not woven stuffs. It has, therefore, been a matter of conjecture as to what land it was that was visited by Juan Fernandez in the 16th century, and whereat he encountered “white people, well made, of out own stature, dressed with very good woven cloth (muy buenas telas), and so peaceable and kind.” Did Juan Fernandez reach the shores of New Zealand? If not, where else would he encounter a people wearing “woven cloth”? We are told that he sailed from the coast of Chili about 40 degrees, and (apparently) then sailed “between the west and south-west,” reaching in one month a large land, “fertile and pleasant.” Those early Spanish voyagers described Polynesians as caras blancas, or white-faced. The voyage was kept secret lest the English or Dutch should introduce among the natives “the venom of their heresy.” Another account states that Juan sailed west and then south, and that in the newly-discovered land were seen the mouths of very large rivers. This new-found tierra firme was thought to be part of a southern continent.
The description of Maori customs, practices and manufactures given in the works of early voyagers are of great service to those who wish to describe such matters, inasmuch as they show us pre-European conditions. Thus Cook describes as follows the rough every-day cloak of the coarser page 507 kind as worn by our native folk in former times: “Their common clothing are very much like square thrumbed mats, that are made of rope yarns, to lay at the doors or passages into houses to clean one's shoes upon.” This description is really a good one, for the common, rough garments worn by natives were made of partially dressed coarse fibrous substances that must have been exceedingly harsh to the skin of the wearer. Cook goes on to say: “Besides the thrumbed mats they have other much finer clothing, made of the same plant after it is bleached and prepared in such a manner that it is as white, and almost as soft as flax, but much stronger.” The garments, he tells us, were about five feet by four feet in size, woven “some pieces close and some very open.”
Cook made the mistake of stating that a form of needle or bodkin was used in the weaving of these rectangular garments, but the only way in which such an object was employed was in separating the hanging threads when they became entangled during the process of weaving. He noted that the finer cloaks had in some cases ornamental borders woven in different colours, or trimmed with dogskin, or feathers.
Other interesting usages were noted by Cook and his contemporaries. For instance, the kilt-like waist garment (rapaki) was sometimes discarded, a man wearing a cloak or cape only, and indeed this one garment was not infrequently cast aside. As Cook himself remarked: “Neither is it at all uncommon for them to go quite naked without any one thing about them besides a belt round their waists, to which is generally fastened a small string, which they tie round the prepuce… The women, on the other hand, always wear something round their middle, generally a short thrumbed mat, which reaches as low as their knees… they likewise wear a piece of cloth over their shoulders as the men do; this is generally of the thrumb kind.”
Crozet mentions the common use of the rough cape that hung down as far as the waist, covering the shoulders and back, but leaving the chest and stomach exposed. With the latter, he tells us, was worn the waist garment or kilt, held round the waist by a belt. These two garments were worn by both sexes. Crozet also mentions what he calls waterproof page 508 mantles, alluding to the rough garments such as the whakatipu, that were covered on the outer side with rough strips of fibrous leaves resembling thatch. He also remarked that only persons of superior station were seen wearing the superior garments made of carefully dressed fibres, soft fabrics adorned in various ways. The rapaki, or kilt, he calls a loincloth. Wilkes noted that, in 1840, the old native garments were still seen in use, but that they were gradually being replaced by European fabrics. He also remarked on the dirty habits of the natives, who seldom, if ever, washed themselves or their garments. This concerned the natives of the Bay of Islands, who were certainly a very unpleasant lot in 1840.
There was assuredly little warmth in these Maori garments, though they sheltered the body. Not being close-fitting to the body, as are our own garments, was a serious drawback, but the Maori was certainly hardy in former times, and so doubtless the wind was tempered to the shorn lamb. The upper garment, being a rectangular one, was inconvenient when a person was at work, and was very often discarded at such times. A cape might be worn during cold weather, but the longer cloak was not a suitable garment for a man engaged in any strenuous task.
The capes that came down to the waist line, or somewhat lower, were secured by one tie across the breast. The long cloaks, or mantles, as some early writers termed them, were fastened on the shoulder, and also often confined round the body by means of a belt. The upper fastening was sometimes made by means of a curved cloak pin, called au, autui, and aurei. These were fashioned from ivory, bone, shell, greenstone, and sometimes wood. Bunches of smooth pieces of bone or whale's tooth were sometimes attached to the upper part of the cloak, where they were secured by means of a pin.
An interesting feature of native life was the manner in which children were reared. They were allowed to run about in a state of nudity until they reached the age of from six to twelve years, as given by various early writers. In some of the colder districts it must have been a case of the survival of the fittest. Little wonder that the survivors were hardy.
The Maori possessed no grateful form of bed clothing, merely the rough, coarse garments of his daily life; these were employed as covering at night. This lack of warm fabrics accounts for the care taken to make sleeping huts warm. Some few possessed a large rug of Phormium fibre, the uhipuni, that served as a covering at night. It resembled the garment called a mai, being woven of dressed fibre though not of superior quality and appearance like the korowai.
The house of weaving already referred to was known as the whare pora, whare parapara, and whare takutaku, the name differing in different districts. There was a certain amount of tapu and ceremony pertaining to the acquirement of the art of weaving. When a young woman desired to learn how to weave fine garments she obtained the assistance of an expert. She had to weave a small piece of fabric under close supervision, and the task was accompanied by certain ceremonial, including the repetition of charms by the directing expert.
The first cross thread woven by the learner is viewed as the tapu thread, and the right hand peg of the crude frame is said to have also been tapu. Prior to the commencement of the weaving the learner, sitting before the frame or pegs, took a hank of dressed fibre in her hand and sat inactive as the expert recited a charm he object of which was to force the knowledge of the art of weaving into the mind of the learner, and render it permanent. As the expert finished his recitation the scholar leaned forward and bit the upper part of the right hand turuturu, or rod, just closing her teeth on it. She then proceeded to weave the first cross thread. She would then weave a few more cross threads under the eye of the expert when her weaving would be discontinued for the day. That first piece of work was styled a kawhatuwhatu; it was never finished or continued, but was viewed as a pattern piece, a kind of sampler.
Another ceremony was performed in order to remove the tapu of the proceedings from the actors. In this performance the scholar was given a small portion of a herb called puwha to eat, and the ceremony itself was sometimes termed moremore puwha. Such ceremonies were considered to be quite necessary page 514 in connection with the acquisition of knowledge pertaining to arts and industries. This was owing to the intrusion of tapu and the belief in the existence of supernormal beings connected with such activities. Thus one Hine-te-iwaiwa is looked upon as the patroness and originator of the art of weaving. The same position was assigned to Hina, but we have already seen that Hina and Hine-te-iwaiwa are two names applied to one being, the personified form of the moon. Rua is another name mentioned in connection with weaving, and with all other arts, simply because he is the personified form of knowledge.
The great majority of garments were made of the fibre of the highly useful phormium plant, termed flax by us. This plant was assuredly a boon to the Maori in more ways than one. There are two species of it and a number of varieties, all of which have native names. There is a considerable difference in the quality of the fibre of these different varieties; some have coarse fibre, some fine, and the fibre also differs in strength. Thus in seeking material for such different products as coarse capes, fine cloaks, fishing lines, nets, etc. natives were careful to procure the most suitable varieties.
The Phormium plant was cultivated to some extent by the Maori. He often planted the more useful varieties near his village home, often in his cultivation grounds, and attended to them by keeping the plants free from surrounding weeds, cutting off dead leaves, etc. Such a grove of Phormium plants was called a pa harakeke. In some cases they were rahuitia, preserved by the owners from light-fingered folk by means of magic spells.
Three Phormium fibre cloaks with taniko borders and one feather cape.
H. Hamilton photo
The threads used by weavers were formed by means of a rolling process, and were of two kinds. That termed miro is made by taking a small portion of fibre and rolling it by means of hand pressure. The operator placed it across his right leg, holding it with his left hand, and used his right hand to roll it with. This rolled miro thread was the one commonly used. When a karure or double thread was required, as for thrums, etc., then it was produced by rolling two miro threads together. Some natives appear to apply the term takerekere to a rolled thread, and miro to the rolling of two such threads together. Miri also denotes the rolling of fibre to form a thread as used in weaving. A length of such twine is produced by means of adding more fibre as the work proceeds. The word whiri denotes the twisting or plaiting of two or more strands together with the fingers.
A peculiar process was employed in some parts in order to bleach or whiten fibre to be used in the manufacture of superior garments. Roots of raupo bulrush (Typha) were procured, washed, then placed in a wooden vessel with water, in which they were crushed and pounded with a pestle of stone or hardwood. The hanks of fibre were then put in and the whole worked and pounded, a process that is said to have produced a kind of lather (pahuka). This process is said to have much improved the appearance of the fibre, some property of the bulrush root having a bleaching or cleansing effect.
The Maori was not in the habit of weaving capes or cloaks in different colours; he preferred to confine the use of coloured fibres to the borders of a garment and the dangling thrums attached to the body thereof. These coloured borders are termed taniko, and they were attached to superior garments only. In order to dye fibre black a singular process was employed. Bark of the hinau tree (Elœocarpus) was pounded and broken up, placed in a wooden vessel, and water was poured over it. After standing for some time the water be- page 517 comes discoloured, almost black, and in this water the fibre was steeped for a day. When taken out the fibre is of a brown colour, by no means black. This is not the dyeing process, however; the steeped bark merely produces a good mordant. To give the steeped fibre the desired deep and fast black colour it was thrust into mud and allowed to remain there for about twenty-four hours, when it was taken out, washed and dried. The mud sought for this purpose was such dark-coloured mud as is often seen in a swamp, especially in one wherein the white pine grows.
A reddish brown dye was obtained from the bark of the toatoa or tanekaha (Phyllocladus). This bark was broken up, pounded, placed in a wooden vessel with water and stone boiled. This process brought out the colouring qualities of the bark and rendered the water a reddish colour, and in this heated water the fibre was steeped. When taken out the fibre was rolled in a bed of hot, clean ashes in order to set the dye, to render it fast, after which it was put back in the hot water for a short space of time ere it was dried. These were the two commonly-used dyes of the Maori. A yellow dye was occasionally obtained from a Coprosma, and a blue-black from the tutu (Coriaria). Mr. John White stated that a dark blue dye was sometimes obtained from Eugenia maire and Aristotelia (mako).
It will readily be seen that the weaving of a superior cloak was a long task; it represented long months of work. Truly natives needed the qualities of patience and application in many of their avocations. One of the slowest tasks of these female artisans was represented by the making of a feather cape or cloak wherein each single feather had to be fastened into the fabric as the work proceeded. Statements made by certain early writers that the Maori weaver formed the woof thread into a ball and so passed it through the warp threads are quite untrustworthy. Again, Crozet's statements as to natives submitting Phormium to a retting process, also that they employed wheel and distaff in thread spinning, are erroneous and utterly misleading. The fact that no form of implement whatever was employed by these neolithic weavers page 518 surprised other early writers, inasmuch as the precision and regularity of the work was achieved by eye alone.
Weaving was essentially the task of women in Maoriland, including the procuring and preparation of the materials. We are told that, occasionally, men would busy themselves in weaving taniko borders for garments. Of the art of weaving as practised in the South Island, we have no information, as no single European of the early days of settlement in those parts seems to have taken any intelligent interest in the native folk and their usages. Some old garments found in a South Island cave, however, are interesting as showing two modes of weaving, or rather of “tied” fabrics, quite unlike the North Island weaving as known to us.
In weaving capes and cloaks the garments were made to fit across the shoulders by working in short wefts that did not extend to the margins of the garment. The woven body or groundwork of a feather cloak, or cape on which pieces of dog skin were fastened was called the kaupapa. The form of pseudo-weaving or plaiting adopted by the Maori is described by the word whatu.
Other materials than Phormium were used to a much smaller extent in the manufacture of garments. Rough capes, termed pake, were made from the fibrous leaves of Freycinetia Banksii (kiekie), and from those of Cordyline Banksii and C. australis (toi and kouka). Angas mentions having seen a cape fashioned from a fibrous bark, possibly that of the whauwhi tree. Brunner mentions a case in which a native made a temporary kind of cape from bark of the manuka tree. Missionary Taylor tells us that a form of cloth was occasionally made in olden days from the inner bark of the houhere (lace-bark or ribbon-wood tree).
A form of belt, termed a tu, composed of a number of twisted or plaited strands, was worn by women. Some were made of Phormium fibre in different colours, others of fragrant or coloured grasses, such as karetu (Hierochloe redolens) and maurea (Carex sp.).
Sandals were apparently but little worn in the North Island, but more frequently in the South. They were called paraerae, parekereke etc., and a form of rough legging occasionally employed was known as taupa or rohe. A curious form of combined sandal and gaiter was sometimes worn, as when crossing snow-clad ranges. The Tuhoe natives employed the tough, spinous leaves of the spear grass (Aciphylla) for this purpose. In the South Island sandals were made of Cordyline and Phormium leaves, the former being the most durable. The ærial roots of the kiekie seem to have been occasionally plaited into a form of sandal.
The plaited floor mats used by the Maori were employed as sleeping mats, and were of two qualities. A coarse mat, termed a tuwhara, was overlaid by a finer one made of narrow strips of Phormium leaf, or of the leaf of Freycinetia Banksii (kiekie). Those made from the former leaf were often worked in patterns, but the more highly-prized kiekie mats were preferred plain. The finer mats are termed takapau, while whariki is a generic term including anything used as a floor covering, be it fabric or merely loose bracken or bulrushes. Mats were occasionally fashioned from other materials.
Maori basketwork is by no means of so interesting a nature as that of some other peoples, including some of decidedly inferior culture. The Maori relied largely on baskets in many of his industries, but his artistic sense is not much in evidence in his manufacture of baskets. He did not construct open, rigid basketwork of ornate design. The only ornamental articles were ordinary baskets of plaited strips of various fibrous leaves, usually Phormium, but occasionally those of the Cordyline, Freycinetia, pingao, etc., were used.
The vast majority of baskets made were for use only, hastily made food baskets, such as have been described, or larger, stronger ones of the kowarawara class for general purposes. Those plaited from leaves of Cordyline were more durable than those made of Phormium. A few ornate baskets were made for keeping or carrying small articles in. Such baskets were more carefully made than work baskets; they were of closer plait and often adorned with geometric designs in black and white. The finer ones were termed putea, and of these the kopa was provided with a flap, and was sometimes carried slung over the shoulder or tied round the waist. It was often used as a substitute for pockets.
Stone pounder (patu whitau) used by women to soften Phormium fibre by beating.
Dominion Museum photo
Maori cordage made of dressed Phormium fibre.
H. Hamilton photo
Maori cordage made of undressed Phormium fibre.
H. Hamilton photo
Tawai. A 2-strand twist. Whiri papa. Whiri kawe. A flat 3-strand plait. Whiri korino. A round 3-strand plait. Whiri tuapuku. A round 4-strand plait. Tamaka, tuamaka. A round 5-strand plait. Rauru. A flat 5-strand plait. Whiri o raukatauri. A square 8-strand plait. Whiri pekapeka. A flat 9-strand plait. Iwituna. A round plait.
Some other names were formerly used, and some difference is noted in names of some forms as in different districts. The ordinary material used for cordage was the leaf of the Phormium, both raw and dressed. Occasionally other fibrous substances were used, such as houhi bark and leaves of Cordyline.