Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands
Plaiting is a very old craft that must have accompanied the Polynesian ancestors into the Pacific. Its application to coconut and pandanus leaf for the making of various necessities must have been well developed before the arrival of the first settlers in the Cook Islands. Thus, thatch sheets and wall page 425sheets (fig. 20) and platters and simple baskets (fig. 21) with a check technique were probably introduced in the first period. A basket in twill with the twisted rim technique and the double course of braiding at the bottom (fig. 21, e) may be a later development, though it is found in western Polynesia. A coarse mat (tapakau) of coconut leaf for rough usage was probably introduced during this period, but it has passed out of use.
The use of pandanus for baskets and sleeping mats with the check technique must be old. In baskets, the three-ply braid which closed the bottom was probably on the outside, whereas the concealment of the braid on the inside, necessitating the plaiting of the basket inside out and then turning it again, was probably a later refinement. The early finish of the rim was probably braid. The mat finish and the serrated edge finish are probably later variations that could be repeated independently elsewhere. In plaiting pandanus mats, the ends of the wefts were left free at the commencement end and the side edges were formed by turning the wefts back into the body of the mat with the piu technique as in the koviri mats (pl. 5, C) but without color decoration. Additional wefts to increase size were added by the overlapping join that prevails throughout Polynesia. The taviri finish was used on the free ends of the wefts at the commencement and finishing ends.
Figure 262.—Fans with natural midrib handles. a, triangular shape: 1, midrib handle; 2, leaflets twisted over leaflet above on same side; 3, plaiting turned in for short distance to end at base (4). b, lozenge shape: 1, midrib handle; 2, leaflets crossed alternately to opposite side; 3, plaiting turned in but instead of ending in a straight base, it is continued to a point (4) to complete lozenge shape and form longer fan.
Note: the Rarotongan and Aitutaki fine fans follow the shape of a, and the crossing leaflet technique of b, whereas the Mangaian fine fans follow the shape of b, and the leaflet twisting technique of a.
The decorative bands on the borders of sleeping mats (pl. 5, B, C), formed by overlaying thin strips of dyed pandanus leaf on the foundation wefts, is peculiar to the Cook Islands. The splitting of the free ends of the foundation wefts to half their width and plaiting them in variations of twill to form geometrical designs are distinct innovations in technique that may almost be regarded as inventions. The application of the technique to the free ends of the wefts at the commencement and finishing edges resulted in the koviri mat with plain side edges. The formation of colored side borders, however, was difficult, because in the established technique carried over on the koviri mats, the side edges were turned and there were no projecting free weft ends (fig. 263, a, b). The problem was solved by leaving the ends of the sinistral wefts free on the left edge and adding new dextrals (fig. 263, c). On the right edge, the dextral ends were left free and fresh sinistrals were added. Further complications that arose at the corners were dealt with in the manner shown in figure 263, d-f. The paretumu mat with all four borders colored was thus produced. As colored borders are unknown in the Society and Austral Islands, the technique may be considered a local invention of the second period.
Though the triangular fan made of a short length of coconut leaf with the leaf midrib serving as a handle is old, the finer fans (pl. 4, C, D) involve a more advanced technique through the use of a wooden handle. The method of tying pairs of young leaflets to the tang of a wooden handle, the crossing of the wefts over both sides of the tang, the splitting of the weft, and the plaiting in check have been described (fig. 22). An identical technique was used in the Society Islands but I have seen no old fans from the Austral Islands. The fans from the Marquesas, Hawaii (fine fans), and western Polynesia differ in technique and shape (fig. 264), so it is evident that diffusion took place between the Society and Cook Islands during the second period. Within the Cook Islands, minor changes occurred in fans of individual islands, for instance, the downward projection of the leaflet midribs in Aitutaki and the ornamentation of the handle with a sennit lozenge pattern in two colors and back to back heads in Rarotonga.
Figure 263.—Technique of colored borders of mats. a, commencement of mat on left lower corner with butt ends (1) left long, check plait, with sinistrals (2) to left and dextrals (3) to right. b, forming left edge (4) by successively turning sinistrals that protrude beyond edge with piu turn to right to act as dextrals (2′); by this technique there are no free wefts on side edge to form decorative border and such borders thus restricted to commencement and finishing edges of koviri mats. c, technique to provide free wefts on side edges for paretumu mats: the sinistrals (2) not turned in but left projecting beyond line of side edge and fresh butt strips (5) are added from side to supply required dextrals (6). Technique of filling in corners of mats (d-f): d, the butt strip on the commencement and two side edges are run out to form free wefts and split again to half their width, as are free ends at finishing edge; top and right side borders are shown plaited in check for simplicity but in mats, various combinations of checks and twills are employed to produce patterns shown in figure 256. In top edge, last sinistral (1) from body of mat forms last of crossing elements and similarly on the right edge, last dextral (2) also forms last crossing weft; two butt strips (3, 3) carrying required number of narrow wefts are inserted along line of last dextral (4) of upper edge to supply required number of sinistral wefts (5) to complete upper part of border as shown. e, butt ends left free in previous figure are run out to supply required dextrals (3, 3) to finish right edge of border. f, completed corner.
Figure 264.—Polynesian fan outlines. a, Aitutaki. b, Rarotonga. c, Mangaia. d, Tahiti (British Mus., Tah. 69), same technique as a and b. e, Marquesas, curved sides and twilled plaiting. f, Hawaii (Bishop Mus., C9232), found in burial cave, closed leaflets in check, triangular shape conforming to central Polynesian type. g, Hawaii (Bishop Mus., 7965), specialized form of fine fan peculiar to Hawaii. h, Samoa, reversed triangle with straight base on handle and curved sides; twilled plaiting. i, Samoa, reversed triangle with slanting base and curved sides.
The form of ridge sheet (tapatu) now in use (fig. 20, b) is said to have been introduced from Samoa (73, fig. 84). Similarly, the o'ini basket (fig. 21, c) is said to have been introduced from Tahiti. Both these articles were page 429probably introduced in the post-missionary period when intercourse between the islands became more frequent.
A third method of closing the bottom of pandanus baskets was used after the acquisition of sewing machines. With the basket inside out, the bottom edges were smoothed together, stitched with a sewing machine, and afterwards inverted so that the seam was inside (70, fig. 175, d).
Trade dyes supplanted the old vegetable dyes in the use of color in sleeping mats and baskets.