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Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands



Some crafts deteriorated in form and technique during a period of transition to the present form or before final abandonment. I know of no instances of deterioration before the native crafts came under European influence. Deterioration in technique may be attributed primarily to the fact that changes in fashions and in values led to a decrease in demand for particular objects. As a result, the skilled craftsmen gradually ceased to apply their skill to such objects and saw no necessity of imparting their knowledge to younger craftsmen. In the course of time, such techniques fell into disuse; and, even if attempts were made at a later period to revive the craft, there were no experts left to reproduce the former high standard of work. Another obstacle to reproduction was the fact that old specimens were given away or sold, hence there were no originals to copy.

A good example of deterioration is provided by the Mangaian ceremonial adzes. After the conversion to Christianity, the ceremonial adzes ceased to function as religious symbols, but their unique form and neat carving and lashing made them interesting art objects to the settlers and visitors of another race. They acquired a new value as objects of trade and the large number to be found in various museums is due to their later manufacture as trade objects. The changes that occurred during a period of over 100 years (p. 448) may be summed up as follows. The increase in the size of the shaft and the pedestal, the introduction of rectangular perforations, and the use of additional carving motifs may be regarded as new developments stimulated by the desire to provide variety and more ornate specimens for trade purposes. In spite of the mechanical advantage of steel tools, however, deterioration took place in the neatness of the carving and in the increased use of easier motifs, such as small page 500tiangles in place of narrow panels accurately filled in with the older K-motif. Deterioration also took place in the lashings, for the decorative open work (fig. 108) was poorly done or omitted and the local variation of the triple triangle pattern (fig. 109) could no longer be reproduced. The last stage in deterioration was the use of wedge-shaped pieces of gray stone roughly trimmed into form on a trade grindstone in place of the triangular adz heads of polished black basalt which could no longer be made.

Read (56, pp. 145-147) applied the term degradation to Mangaian geometrical motifs because he held that they were all that was left of human figures originally used as art motifs in Mangaia. I have shown that the Mangaian carving patterns were developed from simpler geometrical motifs (fig. 242) without any connection with human figures, hence Read's contention is both inaccurate and misleading. There has been deterioration in some of the crafts, due to inevitable changes brought about by European contact; but such terms as degradation and degeneration carry implications that we have no right to assume.