Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands
The human form was used as an art motif in carving. Geometrical figures were executed in carving, painting, tattooing, and plaiting, and artistic patterns were produced in sennit lashings.
It is curious that stone as an art medium was so rare in the Cook Islands as compared with the extensive use of stone for images in the neighboring Society and Austral Islands. The only stone statues in human form reported from the Cook Islands were two images representing the god Rongo that page 402stood on the marae of Orongo in Mangaia. These were destroyed when the Mangaians became converted to Christianity. No stone images have been reported from the other islands in the group.
Wooden images representing gods were made in Rarotonga and Aitutaki. The Rarotongan carving is well executed and follows an established technique. The heads are characterized by the unique eye form, consisting of an elliptical eyeball with raised, curved flanges representing the lids and brow. In small figures, the lid and brow curves are formed by incised lines. Only one specimen (fig. 194) has a nose. The mouth is formed by a number of curved incisions to represent the tongue and lips (fig. 191). The bodies are characterized by a protruding abdomen with the hands clasped upon it, a straight edge across the back between the shoulders, and a squat appearance due to flexion of the lower limbs. These figures are all male, as indicated by a well formed phallus. The small figures in profile and full face on the staff gods are highly conventionalized (fig. 202), and the full-face figures would be unrecognizable as human were it not that a sequence of figures gives the key to the anatomical parts.
Apart from images representing gods, small, fully formed human figures are used on a carved slab that I have identified provisionally as a canoe stern ornament (fig. 121). The characteristic Rarotongan head in double form back to back is used as an art motif on the handles of fans (fig. 23), an ornamental staff (fig. 69), and a short club (fig. 180).
The Rarotongan eye with raised flanges is used to ornament the shoulder of serrated clubs (fig. 179).
Aitutakian images representing gods are much less carefully carved than those of Rarotonga. Certain details—such as the protruding abdomen with hands clasped upon it, straight edge across the back between shoulders, and flexed legs—are common to images of both islands. In the Aitutaki figures, the vertex of the head is more rounded and may be somewhat pointed and the chin may also be pointed. The eyes and mouth are usually represented by simple elliptical excisions, a nose is present, and the brows are formed by bold curves cut down to the lower plane of the face. The upper limb is thin; the upper arm is not free of the body; and the hands, usually three fingered, are clasped on the abdomen. The thighs are acutely flexed with thin legs usually perpendicular. A unique feature of the Aitutaki images is a median rod sup port extending from the gluteal region to the base and evidently introduced to help the thin legs to support the figure. The type specimen is a goddess in the British Museum (fig. 210). By means of this identified image, the carvings shown in figures 212, 213, and 214 were identified as Aitutakian. Small human figures occur on a carved slab (fig. 208, b), and only the head occurs on a slab pedestal (fig. 209) and a carved pedestal (fig. 208, a).page 403
An exception to the statement that human figures were confined to Rarotonga and Aitutaki is found in the spike god attributed to Mangaia (figs. 233-235). This exception of a single artifact leaves a doubt as to the correctness of its origin.
More or less geometrical art motifs occur on carved objects from all the islands of the group. Plants, fish, birds, and animals were not represented in wood carving. The usual motifs consist of V-shaped notches, chevrons, triangles, crescents, lozenges, and combinations such as the chevron joined to a straight bar, triangle, or lozenge. Certain motifs and combinations were used in some islands and not in others.
In Rarotonga, the V-shaped notch was used to form continuous serrations along an edge or on the two edges of a raised bar and it was subsidiary to a main human figure motif. The notched edge occurs on the bounding edges of the canoe ornament (fig. 121), and it is used on the feet of human figures to denote toes. The raised band with both edges serrated is used as a defining boundary to the double-head motif in fan handles (fig. 23), ornamental staff (fig. 69), and short hand club (fig. 180). It also occurs in some of the smaller staff gods (fig. 200). The chevron motif occurs on the butt end of weapons (fig. 177) and on the blade of a hand club (fig. 180).
In Aitutaki, the V-shaped notches, triangles, and lozenges were extensively used on the carved slabs forming the main motifs. The combination of a serrated edge with a triangle opposite every alternate point was much used (figs. 204, 205, 208). It is so peculiar to Aitutaki that an image (fig. 211) has been identified by it. In some carvings, the triangle is supplanted by an incised crescent (fig. 208, a) and its appearance on the base of the key Aitutaki image (fig. 210, a) confirms its importance for identification purposes. The raised bar with serrated edges is also common (figs. 129, d; 203, a, b, c; 204, b;205, a, b;206; 208, a, b;212). In fact, the serrated bar is present on all the slab carvings. Incised lozenges were also used (fig. 203, b, e;205, b;208, b). An interesting combination is the chevron-triangle (fig. 203, c) and particularly the chevron-lozenge (fig. 204, b;205, b), which was also used on arches for the attachment of feathers (fig. 206).
On the modern four-sided enlargements on the shafts of adzes (fig. 106, c) are rows of lozenges and triangles. In the carving on the sides of a large seat (70, fig. 315) are triangles with curved sides and bases, and the combination page 404of two rows gives the effect of headless human bodies with arms and legs. Composite designs of rows of triangles arranged in a horizontal bar are often supplemented with short serrated bars at right angles to one edge of the design.
Serrated edges with chevrons opposite alternate points and rows of triangles and lozenges occur on a paddle blade (fig. 129), and more elaborate combinations are seen on another paddle blade (fig. 127), Incised semicircles are used on a paddle shaft (fig. 127, d, 2) and on a paddle blade (fig. 128). The composite lozenge-chevron motif occurs on a paddle shaft (fig. 127, d). The various geometrical motifs and combinations are assembled in figure 254.
Figure 254.—Geometrical carving motifs, Aitutaki: a, serrated edge; b, notched bar with opposing points; c, notched bar with alternating points; d, triangle; e, triangle with curved base and sides, approaching crescentic form; f, lozenge; g, ellipse; h, composite chevron and triangle; i, composite chevron and lozenge; j, incised curves; k, incised semicircles; l, serrated edge with triangles opposite every other edge point, characteristic combination; m, serrated edge, alternate triangles, and short notched bars; n, serrated edge, crescents, triangles, and notched bars; o, chevron-triangle motifs in pairs with intermediate knobs; p, serrated edge of four points with concave plain edge between groups, curved incisions, chevrons with concave curved edge between, and chevron-triangle motifs with knobs left between opposing chevrons; q, chevron-lozenge motifs in opposing pairs with knobs left between chevrons; r, lower edge with convex curves below crescents spaced below every second U-shaped excision in row above, and notched bars (on edge of long four-legged seat); s, row of vertical lozenges with trident above and short notched bars on either side (on paddle); t, combination of three curved flanges, lowest solid with bottom edge notched.
The only Atiuan carvings available are on the domed god (fig. 215) which uses the lozenge chevron cleat at one end of an arch and divided prolongations at the other. With the top of the arch forming a connecting body, the figures page 405have a somewhat human appearance, though the geometrical figure takes the place of a head (fig. 215, a, 6, 7, 8). The geometrical motifs used are chevrons, bars, and triangles (fig. 215, e).
In Mitiaro the only specimens available are the carvings representing gods. The band with serrated edges and the lozenge-chevron motif used as cleats to arches for feather attachment are the two common motifs. Variations are the combination of chevron and triangle with extra side notches that create two triangles or two chevrons (fig. 228).
The geometrical motif of the bar and the chevron combined to form the K-figure (figs. 242, 247) is typical of Mangaia. It was used to ornament the staff gods, adz hafts, and other wooden objects such as bowls (fig. 5), fan handles (fig. 25), canoes, paddles (figs. 131, 132), wooden shark hooks (fig. 154), slit gongs (figs. 163-165), and short clubs (fig. 184). Incised chevrons and lozenges were used on serrated clubs and paddle clubs (fig. 182) and chevrons on the club butts (fig. 185). The multiple lozenge (fig. 247, f) and rows of triangles (fig. 247, h, i) were late developments. The Mangaian craftsmen carved more extensively than their brethren in the other islands.
Painting on wood was done with black pigment probably made from the soot of burnt candle-nut kernels. In Rarotonga, the only painted objects seen were two fisherman's gods (figs. 192, 193) in which the serrated edge and some tattooing motifs were used.
In Mangaia, painting occurs on bowls (fig. 5), paddles (figs. 132, 134), canoe hulls (fig. 136), and slit gongs (figs. 163-165). Of the paddles, one that appears old had a single pattern (fig. 132), but a series of five paddles, evidently made for entertainments, has circles variously enhanced, crescents, several small figures, and conventional branching plants. Probably their diversity is due to a post-missionary origin; but the variations are shown in figure 255, as they may have been used on tapa and may aid identification should cloth be found with similar motifs.page 406
Figure 255.—Painted motifs on Mangaian paddles. Four circles, each with small central circle and illustrating main motifs used between center circle and circumference, and small motifs around circumference (a-d): a, radiating lines; small triangles around circumference; b, two rows of V's, two sides of triangle with rest not filled in; c, one row long chevrons giving spindle wheel effect, T-motif; d, two rows of pentagonal figures with small cross, double crossed T. e-s, enlarged central circle showing variations. Crescents with motifs similar to those in four circles (a-d). t-w: t, radiating lines, small triangles; u, V-motif, two sides of triangle; v, chevron, T-motif; w, pentagonal figures with cross, double crossed T. Four motifs used for filling between circles, crescents, and edges, x-a': x, a tattooing motif (fig. 71); y, serrated bars with long triangle at each end; z, Z-motif in rows; a′, bilaterally notched lozenge which formed key to round bowls (fig. 5). Two conventional leaflets from coconut leaf pattern on back of some of clubs, b', c': b′, outer, wider two thirds divided into four longitudinal panels, two wider with chevron motif and two narrower panels with small white squares, inner narrow third in two panels with chevron motif, T-motif on side edges; c′, leaflet also divided into longitudinal panels with chevron, bilaterally notched lozenges, crossed pentagons, and Z-motif; incomplete triangle motif along side edges.
The study of tattooing motifs is limited, because they were not recorded when the art was flourishing. Though the art was not encouraged by the missionary teachers, a few of the figures used were utilized until fairly recent times. Such motifs as persisted or were remembered by the older people of Rarotonga, Aitutaki, and Mangaia are recorded in figures 70-72. We have no information about Atiu, Mauke, and Mitiaro tattooing.
The colored borders of pandanus sleeping mats were purely decorative, and women vied with each other in working different designs with black and red strips of dyed material that were laid over the sinistral wefts. The various motifs and designs have been described elsewhere (70, pp. 136-154), but they are reproduced here (fig. 256) to complete this work. Designs in color were also applied to pandanus baskets. The colored bands were made in all the islands of the group except Mangaia. The Mangaians maintain that they never made mats and that plaiting was the only craft in which they did not excel.
Sennit was used in lashings, except those demanding finer material. Sennit lies flat against the wood, and its rough surface prevents it from shifting position as easily as a round cord made from material other than coir fiber. In all lashings, the commencement end of the sennit was turned down and buried under succeeding turns of the sennit. The craftsman thus had two hands free to deal with one braid. He made a turn with his right hand, pulled it taut, and kept the turn in position by the pressure of the left thumb. This enabled him to direct the course of the next turn. When it was taut, the left hand could aid in adjusting the turn accurately before the full tautness was applied. All turns were regulated in relation to previous turns, and a regular sequence was followed so as to develop a neat pattern. In Polynesian lashings great care was taken to insure neatness and regularity and genuine pride was evinced in the production of artistic patterns. All lashings of house and canoe parts were carefully made for artistic expression as well as for security. A lashing in common use on houses and canoes was formed by loops crossing alternately from above and below on the front of the lashing, as exemplified in the early stage of adz lashings (fig. 103). Another common form was the crossing figures-of-eight to form a lozenge pattern on the front of the lashing (fig. 23, c).page 408
Figure 256.—Plaited designs on sleeping mats, Aitutaki. a, viti motif. b, ni'oni'o (toothed). c: 1, katikativai; 2, 'etu matariki (little-eyed stars); 3, mata 'a (four eyes). d: 1, pi'a rikiriki (little box-in check); 2, pi'a rikiriki (little box-in twill); 3, 'onu (turtle). e, top, tapuae mokora (duck's feet); bottom, matautua. f, matakeke (teeth of saw). g, matakere, a favorite design, h, full border design with middle main motif of oblique squares formed by three white twilled-threes termed puna rua, a row of white checks (ara maori) on either side, followed by rows of twilled twos (ara veri) and marginal rows in check to fix colored strips. i, karamarama 'akatu (upright windows). j, paka 'onu (turtle's shell). k, karamarama 'akatakoto (horizontal window). l, ta'iri'iri (fan). m, ran nikau in two forms (coconut leaf). n, ran na'e (leaf of fern, Marattia sp.). o, va'anga marama (half moon). p, pupu (bunched wefts). q, maire (leaf of maire fern). r, names taken from suits on playing cards: 1, peti (spade); 2, ata (heart).
Note: the designs were produced by variations in plaiting technique and the names given from some resemblance to natural objects. In some, the design is old as in f, but is given a modern name such as "teeth of a saw" and so with i and j– which are named after the windows of a church. The fan motif (l) may have been copied from a foreign fan and the modern motifs in r were certainly an attempt to represent in straight lines the curved spade and heart suits on playing cards.
The most artistic lashings were made in binding the adz heads to the hafts. The triple triangle pattern (fig. 105) with two variations was used in all the islands except Mangaia. In Mangaia, a distinct variation of the original triple triangle was developed (fig. 109) with variations (figs. 110, 111).
The Mangaians are credited by their neighbors with being the most expert in sennit work, and their artifacts certainly prove this statement. They took pride in the manufacture of a fine flat braid termed rapa. They not only made neat lashings to fasten parts together, but they also used patterns of crossing courses of sennit for ornamentation. Among the purely ornamental patterns are the following:
|1.||Decorative oblique crossings over the foot of both ceremonial and working adzes (fig. 108).|
|2.||Decorative designs on rafters and purlins of houses (figs. 17, 18).|
|3.||Decorative rafter design (fig. 17) applied to fans (fig. 25), pearl-shell ornaments (fig. 64), and adz hafts (figs. 115, b; 116, b).|
|4.||Inaere rafter pattern (fig. 18), applied to adz lashings (fig. 112), and staff gods (fig. 240, c). The inaere pattern was also used with fine cord in the lashing of snoods to wooden shark hooks (fig. 152).|
|5.||A decorative design of spaced transverse bands made with one continuous braid was used on adz hafts (figs. 115, a; 116, a), paddle clubs (fig. 181, c), and spears (fig. 187, i).|
|6.||A unique lashing pattern in spaced bands with curved edges is present on adz shafts (figs. 115, c; 116, c).|
In Rarotonga, a multiple lozenge pattern was worked on the handle of fans (fig. 23), an ornamental staff (fig. 69), and an adz lashing with a decorated shaft (fig. 113). A further artistic effect was obtained by finishing off the lozenges with sennit of another color so that the lozenges formed of the brown color of normal sennit were defined by dark borders.
Perforations as an art motif were used on the handles of the Rarotongan fans and on the pedestals of Mangaian ceremonial adzes. They were also used on tapa in Mangaia (fig. 27). The serrated edge so common in wood carving was produced in plaiting as ornamentation to the rim of pandanus baskets and on the distal end of Aitutaki fans. Featherwork with the various forms of holders, carriers, rosettes, and bars were all produced as a form of art. Coir fiber in cord or braid with added tufts of fiber were used for decorating the slab gods in Aitutaki (figs. 203, 204) and Mitiaro (figs. 225, 226), and sennit was used with feathers in Atiu (figs. 215, 216).
Selection and Preference
Though the various details in the technique of carving and lashing were well within the scope of all craftsmen, different islanders seem to have selected page 410or preferred certain motifs and rejected others. The serrated bar was used in all the islands except Mangaia. The combination of a serrated edge with alternating triangles or crescents was evidently confined to Aitutaki. The combined chevron and lozenge was shared by Aitutaki, Atiu, and Mitiaro; and the combined chevron and triangle was shared by Aitutaki and Mitiaro. These two combinations do not occur in Rarotonga and Mangaia. The combined chevron and bar forming a K-figure is confined to Mangaia.
A similar preference is evident in lashings. Rarotonga used the lozenge technique that developed from crossings above and below the first crossing, and applied the multiple form to decorating fan handles and an ornamental staff. Mangaia preferred the inaere pattern made by forming the sequence of crossings on one side of the first crossings and in the multiple form, it was applied to house rafters, the staff of one of the gods, and to a wooden shark hook. The lack of material decorated with multiple lozenges from Aitutaki, Atiu, Mauke, and Mitiaro is negative evidence that it was not used in those islands. It seems likely that some such objects would have been collected had they been present. Hence, when an adz lashed with the inaere multiple lozenge (fig. 112) requires localizing, it is reasonable to ascribe it to Mangaia on the available evidence. Similarly, an adz lashed and decorated with the other form of multiple lozenge (fig. 113) has been ascribed to Rarotonga. It is quite possible that one or both of these adzes may belong to some group otheŕ than the Cook Islands, but no other evidence is at present available.