The Maori As He Was : A Brief Account of Maori Life as it was in Pre-European Days
The art of weaving. Moon-goddess and her functions. Bark cloth. Maori method of weaving. The whare pora. Phormium fibre. Maori garments. Dyes. Varieties of Phormium. Decorative designs. Cordyline and Freycinetia fibres utilized. Belts Baskets. Mats. Cordage. Superstitions connected with weaving. Personal adornment. Hair-dressing. Combs. Chaplets. Plumes. Novel nose-ornament. Nose-flattening. Anklets. Ear-pendants. Greenstone pendants. Sharks' teeth as pendants. Human teeth as pendants. The koropepe. The human ear as substitute for a pocket. The heitiki. Neck-pendants. The pekapeka. Stone spools of unknown use. Scents. Oil. Face any body paints. Tattooing. Mythical origin of tattooing. Tattooing of women.
Lest our readers should think that Maori clothing may be classified with the famous snakes of Ireland, we hasten to assure them that the Maori was acquainted with a rude form of weaving, and wore garments when such did not interfere with his activities. The art of weaving is said in native myth to have originated with, or to be under the patronage of, one Hine-te-iwaiawa, also known as Hina, who is a personification of the moon. This identification of the so-called moon-goddess with the art of weaving is also noted among the beliefs of ancient Egypt. Another old Maori myth is to the effect that when Mataora visited the spirit-world he brought back with him to this world the knowledge of the art of tattooing, and also a famous cloak and belt, known as Te Rangi-haupapa and Te Ruruku-o-te-rangi. These two prized possessions were utilized as pattern garments by the women of this world, who have ever since continued to weave garments in a similar manner.
The style of weaving employed by the Maori may possibly have been introduced; information as to its existence elsewhere is not available to the writer. The same process was employed by the pre-Columbian dwellers in the Mississippi valley. It cannot be termed true weaving, but has been described as a plaiting or tying process. The clothing of the Maori in his former home in eastern Polynesia consisted of bark cloth (tapa) manufactured from the bark of the aute, or paper-mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera). This tree he imported into New Zealand, but it did not flourish in this climate, and could only be grown to a limited extent by the display of much care. Thus its bark did not furnish clothing here, but merely strips of fibrous material employed in dressing the long hair of the men. Very few specimens of this tree were seen by Cook and his companions. Nor would page 193 tapa have proved a suitable clothing material in this climate. At one time the Taranaki natives manufactured some kind of bark cloth from the whauwhi, or ribbonwood-tree. After his arrival here the Maori must soon have cast about for a substitute for the tapa of Polynesia. This he found in the fibre of the Phormium (“flax,” as we term it), a fibre that could not be beaten or pounded into a wearable fabric, hence it had to be dressed, spun, and woven. It would be of interest to know whether the settlers from eastern Polynesia invented the rude local method of weaving, or acquired it from the Mouriuri aborigines.
The so-called weaving process termed whatu by the Maori was performed without loom or shuttle; the threads were manipulated by the unaided fingers only. The only aid employed, a very crude one, consisted of two sticks or pegs inserted in an upright position in the earth (in some cases four pegs were used). When about to weave a garment a strong thread was fastened tautly in a horizontal position to the two uprights. To this thread, called the tawhiu, were attached the upper ends of the io, the warp or vertical threads that are arranged close together. The process consists of working in cross-threads from left to right, these woof threads being known as aho; they page 194 are about half an inch apart. The closer these threads are together the better the garment, for the closer is its texture. In weaving the coloured borders of a cloak, as also the pauku cape used as a defence against spears, the cross-threads are quite close together, making a close, strong, fabric like coarse canvas. In the case of fine garments four threads are employed in the forming of each aho. The operator passes two of these threads on either side of the first io, or vertical thread, thus enclosing it. In continuing the process the two pairs of threads are reversed; those that passed behind the first vertical thread would be brought in front of the next one, then behind the next, and so on. Thus each of the down threads was enclosed between two or four cross-threads every half-inch or so. This process is an extremely tedious one, and the making of a fine cloak occupied a woman for many months. The threads used consist of dressed Phormium fibre twisted by a rolling process, generally performed on the bare leg. The same rolling added to the length when required. This rolled thread is called a takerekere (east coast), the miro being a two-strand page 195 twine formed of two takerekere rolled together. The word whiri is used to denote twisting or plaiting several strands together with the fingers. Plaiting, as in mat or basket making, is raranga.
The teaching of the art of weaving the finer garments was one to which a certain amount of tapu pertained. Such accomplishments are called the art of the whare pora. When a beginner commenced to weave her “pattern piece,” one expert was present to conduct certain ceremonial and to recite charms over the pupil. One of these was to render the pupil quick to grasp the lesson received, while another was to fix the lesson in her memory. After the lesson concluded, the tapu was lifted from the participants and the proceedings.
Fig. 85.—Te Rangihaeata, Chief of Ngati-Toa. Illustrating mode of wearing cloaks
Fibre of the Phormium was carefully hand-dressed, then bleached, and in some cases dyed. That intended for the vertical threads was softened by beating it with a stone pounder, a carefully fashioned smooth-faced implement. Fibre to be used for cross-threads was not so treated. In order to cause a cloak or cape to fit over a person's shoulders a number of short aho, or cross-threads, are woven into it. These cross-threads are not continued to the edges of the garment.
The Maori wore but two garments, and these were of the same fashion for both sexes. One was a kilt-like garment worn round the waist, and secured by a belt; it descended to about the knees. The other was a rectangular garment worn over the shoulders. This latter might be a rough cape-like garment, the ordinary everyday style, or a long cloak-like garment, usually of a finer quality, as worn by superior folk; slaves and common folk would possess none of these. No form of sleeved garment had been evolved by the natives, and the upper page 196 garment was cast aside when a man was engaged in any work. Women or girls occasionally wore a kind of apron—some triangular (maro kopua), others rectangular (maro waiapu). Cook seems to have seen such garments adorned with shells.
Cloaks and capes were often worn to meet on the right side, so as to tie on the right shoulder, but sometimes so as to meet in front, or passed under the left arm and tied over the right shoulder. Women found it convenient to wear such garments so as to meet in front. Children wore no clothing until about ten years of age, save under unusual conditions. Truly the Maori of old was a hardy creature! No form of hat was worn, the tipare being but a chaplet or band to retain plumes; the potae also was a mere circlet—it had no top. It was the usual thing to go barefooted, sandals being used only in very cold or rough places.
The dyes employed by the Maori in former times may be said to have been both vegetable and mineral, but mostly the former. The colour black was obtained by first steeping fibre in water in which crushed hinau bark had been soaked, and then burying it in dark-coloured mud. It is left in such mud for about twenty-four hours, then taken out and washed, when it is found to be of a deep black hue, and this black dye does not fade. When the fibre is taken from the wai hinau, or bark decoction, it is by no means black, but is of a light-brown colour; the black colour is imparted to it by the mud. Quite possibly the water, affected by the bark, acts as a mordant. Not only is this dyeing process employed for the dressed fibre of the Phormium, but also for the raw leaf, strips of which are dyed and used in the manufacture of baskets and sleeping-mats. The barks of tawai (Fagus) and of tawhero (Weinmannia) are used for the above purpose in some cases, as when hinau (Elaeocarpus) is not procurable.
The reddish-brown dye formerly used was obtained from the bark of the tanekaha (Phyllocladus). The bark was pounded to break it up, then placed in a wooden trough into which water was poured, and then the fibre to be dyed was immersed in the water. Stones heated in an adjacent fire were then put in the water, this process being repeated for some time. This stone-boiling process was slow but effective, and brought out the colouring-matter contained in the bark. In late times iron vessels have been employed for this heating purpose. I have seen native women take this dyed fibre and place it among hot, page 197 page 198 page 199 clean ashes from a wood-fire for a while. This is said to prevent the colour fading.
A blue-black dye is said to have been occasionally obtained from the tupakihi, whawhakou, and mako trees (Coriaria, Eugenia, and Aristotelia). A yellow dye was gained from the raurekau (Coprosma), though not widely used. Mr. White tells us that bark of the puriri (Vitex lucens) was sometimes mixed with that of the tanekaha to obtain a brownish-yellow dye. Another dye he mentions is a yellow one obtained from a mixture of tanekaha bark with a small plant called kakariki. This plant is not known to us.
Natives recognize a number of varieties of Phormium, each of which has its special name. The quality of the fibre of these varieties differs widely, and the leaves (wha) differ in form and colour. The Tuhoe folk give names of nine such varieties, of which oue is the best. Whanganui natives also give nine names of varieties, only two of which are the same as the Tuhoe terms. In neither list does the name tihore appear, this being the name of the best variety in some districts. In former times the superior kinds were often cultivated at places adjacent to a village, and such a pa harakeke was carefully tended by the women, each pu (flax clump) being kept free of dead leaves, and cut in a judicious manner. In some districts no good variety was found indigenous, and all desired superior fibre had to be cultivated.
The superior fibre only was employed in the manufacture of fine or superior cloaks and capes, such as the aronui and paepaeroa. Some of these were adorned with coloured borders (white, red, and black) worked in geometric patterns, the triangle being much in evidence. Such borders were attached after the weaving of the body of the cloak had been completed. Mr. S. Percy Smith tells us that these designs are also seen on the garments worn by the natives of Pleasant Island. Some of these Maori capes consisted of a body or groundwork to which feathers or strips of dog-skin were fastened. The feather-covered garments were exceedingly tedious to make, each feather being arranged and secured separately during the process of weaving the groundwork. Those covered with the red feathers of the kaka parrot were very showy, and highly prized.
Superior cloaks were often fastened with cloak-pins formed of bone, ivory, or shell, some straight, but many were curved; these latter are known as aurei—autui being a generic term.page 200
When the natives first acquired European garments they utilized them in a very singular manner in many cases. They had been accustomed to plain rectangular garments that were simply wrapped round the body, and the intricacies of European clothing, with the different garments for the two sexes, were too puzzling to be readily grasped. Thus the most absurd and grotesque sights were seen by early travellers and visitors to these shores. Coats and trousers were often worn back to front. Shirts did duty as kilts, even as trousers, the wearer's legs being thrust through the sleeves. One burly native was detected in a vain attempt to force his legs through the sleeves of a coat. Polack mentions seeing a man wearing a black stocking on one arm and a white sock on the other; also, his nether garments faced the wrong way. The Rev. Mr. Yate speaks of a man walking into church wearing the sleeves of a gown as stockings, while two small baskets were fastened on his feet as shoes. He had a wealth of page 201 female gowns, and had donned one after another so that a portion of each one was visible. This choice custume was completed by a pair of trousers tied round the neck. In 1850 a Rotorua native came to greet Sir George Grey with a stocking on one leg, a broken Wellington boot on the other, a striped shirt worn as a kilt, and a soldier's bearskin shako much the worse for wear.
The strong, fibrous leaves of Cordyline and of Freycinetia were utilized to a very much less extent than the so-called flax. Those of the toi (C. indivisa) were employed in the manufacture of strong, coarse, rainproof shoulder-capes that were much more durable than those made of Phormium.
Belts (tatua) were usually made from the same material as garments, the far-spread Phormium; but occasionally other materials were used, such as Freycinetia and pingao, page 202 page 203 page 204 page 205 a seaside plant with yellow-red leaves. Flax belts were often plaited in patterns with black and white stripes. These belts tied with a string. Women often wore a belt composed of many strands of plaited fibre, or of the fragrant leaves of the karetu (Hierochloe redolens). The tatua pupara, a form of belt worn by men, was made double by folding, and this belt was often used as a pocket, a receptacle for small objects.
Baskets were a very important article in a native household. They were plaited from Phormium strips as a rule; occasionally other materials were used. Coarse ones were used for domestic and field work; finer ones, worked in varied designs of black and white, were employed for other purposes. Some were made with a flap, and these were much used to keep small articles in, and were often carried by travellers for that purpose. A pocketless garment is a great drawback, and the basket replaced pockets among the Maori folk.page 206 page 207
Floor-mats were made by the same plaiting process as that employed in belt-making. Coarse mats, called tuwhara and whariki, were used for laying on fern-fronds or Lycopodium spread on a hut-floor, and finer, closely woven mats, termed takapau, were placed over them. These latter were often fine white fabrics made from bleached strips of the kiekie, or Freycinetia. Large mats were made in several widths (papa) or sections, which were joined together.
It was considered unlucky to weave a superior garment in the open air, or to do such work after sunset; but, at the same time, it was unlucky to leave a woof thread incomplete. Exception was taken to strangers seeing the weaving operations of a family, and such work would be put away when strange folk were about. Many superstitions, prejudices, and queer conceits exist in connection with Maori weaving, as with all other native activities.page 208
A considerable variety of cordage, rope, and twine was manufactured by natives. Round, flat, and square plaits were used. The following are some of the names used:—
Tawai, tamarua—a twist of two strands.
Paraharaha—a flat plait of three strands.
Kawe—a plait of three strands.
Tuapuku, iwituna—a round plait of four strands.
Puku—a plait of four strands.
Tuamaka, tamaka—a round plait of five strands.
Tari karakia, whiri o Raukatauri—a square plait of eight strands.
Pekapeka—a flat plait of nine strands.
Whiri taura kaka—a square plait of ten strands.