Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga
Houses and Furniture
Houses and Furniture
The houses now in use in Manihiki and Rakahanga follow the architectural principle of the rectangular house used in the Cook Islands. These houses are characterized by long upright posts erected at the middle of each end to support directly the main ridgepole. It was held that this type was introduced, together with houses built of lime, by the Rarotongan missionaries, Aporo and Tairi. The original type of house, which was made in both atolls until comparatively recently, has been gradually displaced, but fortunately a single example survives in Rakahanga, characterized by the absence of end posts supporting the ridgepole and of wall posts supporting the wall plates.
Original House Type
The framework of the original type of house is composed of paired opposite side posts supporting two longitudinal beams, which in turn support a number of crossbeams. The crossbeams support the wall plates on their ends. The principal rafters rest on the wall plates, and their crossed upper ends support the ridgepole without the assistance of king-posts. The architectural principle followed resembles that of the Samoan long house, except that the Samoans use king-posts to support the ridgepole and cross the principal rafters above the ridgepole instead of below it (28, p. 20). The ground foundation upon which the Rakahangan house is erected is termed tango.
The framework technique, described from the surviving original type house in Rakahanga, is as follows:
Skeletal framework (figs. 4-6). The longitudinal beams, crossbeams, and wall plates are lashed together on the ground before the supporting posts.are erected (fig. 4). During the lashing each beam is supported by two short temporary posts slightly hollowed on the upper end to keep the round beams from rolling off. The temporary posts serve to raise the beams sufficiently high to allow the lashing patterns to be developed on the under surface. The two longitudinal beams and the crossbeams are of hala (Pandanus) trunks in the round. Nine crossbeams are used; of these, two are lashed close to the ends of the longitudinal beams and the remaining seven are evenly spaced to fill up the intervening space. Each crossbeam is securely lashed to each longitudinal beam with sennit braid. The somewhat thin wall plates are made of split hala wood. The two wall plates are laid over the ends of the crossbeams and lashed to each crossbeam with sennit braid. Three-ply braid (kaha) of a thicker size than that used on other parts of the framework is used for the beam and wall plate lashings (fig. 5). The turns of the braid are arranged to form decorative patterns on page 71 the under surface of the longitudinal and cross beams. The pattern is formed by alternating curves; the common lozenge pattern of other areas is not used. The term for the curved turns is ua, and the phrase used for tightening up such turns is uahia kia whakaketa.
Four supporting posts (pou) (fig. 6) made of coconut trunks are spaced on the house site in the same manner as the temporary supporting posts, so as to coincide with the lashed frame of beams and wall plates, and arranged in two side pairs, the distance between the posts of one side being 19 feet and between opposite sides, 12.5 feet. The posts when fixed in the ground are 6 feet high. The upper ends are notched to take the longitudinal beams, which are thus kept in position without any subsequent lashing. In extra long houses, two posts instead of one are used at either end of the longitudinal beam, and the longitudinal beam (fig. 6) is formed of coconut trunk instead of hala wood. When the posts are in position the whole beam frame (fig. 4) is lifted and the longitudinal beams are fitted into the notches of the posts.
Figure 4. House framework: a, view from above; b, side view. 1, temporary posts; 2, longitudinal beams (hapai), 24 feet 3 inches long, 7 inches in diameter, laid parallel 12.5 feet apart; 3, crossbeams (vae), 17 feet 4 inches long, 5 inches in diameter, ends project 2 feet 5 inches on each side beyond longitudinal beams; 4, wall plates (kaupapa), 25 feet 2 inches long, 4 inches wide, and 1 inch thick; 5, lashing of crossbeams to longitudinal beams; 6, lashing of wall plate to crossbeams.
Roof framework (figs. 7, 8). A scaffolding (turanga, standing place) is erected to facilitate the erection of the roof framework. This scaffolding takes the form of a roof framework with two end uprights supporting a beam in the manner of a ridgepole. Poles resembling rafters are placed in a slanting position from the ground to the ridgepole on either side, and lashed. Horizontal poles are lashed like purlins to page 72 the supporting rafters to form steps. The height of the end uprights and the slant of the side poles are adjusted so that the carpenters standing on the scaffolding can reach any part of the house roof from within. The method is widespread and has been described in detail for Samoa (28, p. 24).
Figure 5. House framework, lashing of crossbeams (vae) to longitudinal beams (hapai) with curved pattern (ua). a, view from above: sennit braid (3) tied around vae (1) with running noose (4) and makes curved turn on under side of hapai, middle of curve crossing middle transverse line of hapai which corresponds to middle longitudinal line of vae; curved turn held in position by left hand. b, view from below, curved first turn (5) shown in position on under surface of hapai (2): braid (3) brought up on near side of hapai and on same side of vae (1) on which it commenced turn. c, view from above: braid (3) brought up over vae and makes diagonal turn (6) over vae to far right corner. d, view from below: braid (3) descends in far right corner and makes second curved turn (7) on under surface of hapai, crossing middle part of curve of first turn (5) and so fixing it in position; braid completes its turn by passing upward at near right corner. e, view from above: braid passes from near right corner diagonally over vae to far left corner making diagonal turn (8) which crosses over previous diagonal turn (6). f, view from below: diagonal turn over vae has brought braid back into far left corner from which it made first curved turn (5) in b; braid makes similar curved turn (9) but keeps closely to outer side of first turn (5) and in so doing crosses and fixes previous turn (7); from this position braid will cross back of vae and, appearing on under surface at far right corner, will make crossing curved turn to outer side of previous turn (7) from same side. g, view from below: repetition of first two curved turns successively applied on outer side of previous turns from same side results in pattern (10), which is continued until lashing sufficiently firm and pattern developed to taste of craftsman; lashings averaged 8 from one side and 7 from other, making 15 in all. h, side view showing crossings of turns on one side and half of main design (10), braid (3) in position to make horizontal fixation turns to fix lashing. i, side view: braid makes horizontal circumferential turn (11) around lashing turns where they pass between two wooden elements of frame and so tightens lashing; few turns made; braid passed through one or two loops to form half-hitches which fix end of braid. j, side view: alternate lashing formed by running turns from either side straight around hapai instead of using curved turns, crossing above vae being exactly similar to those in previous lashing; two parallel bands (3, 4) on under surface of hapai thus formed; circumferential horizontal turns (5) made as in i; diagonal crossing turns above vae not arranged in any definite lozenge pattern in either lashing, as they cannot be seen from below.
Figure 6. House framework: upper ends of supporting post (pou) notched to receive longitudinal beams (hapai). a, side view; b, end view; c, side view with chock to steady beam; d, side view of long house, each post reinforced by another placed close to it. 1, notched post, 6 feet above ground, 11.6 inches in diameter; 2, longitudinal beam; 3, triangular projection of notch; 4, curve of notch, fits beam; 5, chock, segment of hala trunk inserted to steady beam when notch and beam do not fit; 6, extra post used for long houses.
Figure 7. Roof framework: principal rafters (oka), shaping of upper ends and lashings. a, top ends of pair of rafters (1, 2) with about half of section cut away to form flat surfaces to fit against each other. b, pair with flat surfaces of top ends laid against each other when crossed; braid lashing fixed to one rafter with running noose; alternate horizontal (3) and vertical (4) turns made around opposite angles to lash pair together. c, side view, lower part of rafter (1) where notched to fit against wall plate (5) d, outer side of rafter (1) resting against wall plate (5), lashing of diagonal turns (3, 4) cross on outer surface of rafter and pass transversely around wall plate; after first crossing turns, subsequent turns made to outer side above and below; first turns to form lozenge pattern shown.
Figure 8. Roof framework of house: a, side view, left end near principal rafter, four thatch rafters and end of fourth purlin cut away to show underlying parts of frame; b, end view. 1, supporting posts (pou); 2, longitudinal beams (hapai); 3, crossbeams (vae); 4, wall plate (kaupapa); 5, principal rafters (oka); 6, main ridgepole (tauhuhu); 7, purlins (tarawa); 8, diagonal strut (toko) attached to main ridgepole above and to wall plate below, crossing four rafters to which it is also attached; 9, thatch rafters (whakakaho); 10, upper ridgepole (tauhuhu iti or takiri kaho); 11, eaves rod (turuturu iti).
End framework (fig. 9). The framework which closes in the ends (tara) of the house is composed of horizontal purlins and vertical rods which supply the thatch rafters, to which the thatching is attached. Wooden chocks (pono) are used to push out the lower end of the framework. Four horizontal purlins are stretched across the space between the end pair of rafters with the ends resting on the ends of the side purlins, to which they are lashed. The lowest purlin in the actual house is level with the end crossbeam, but in figure 9, a, it is a little too high. A mesial, rather thick rod is attached above to the crossing of the end rafters and lashed to the outer side of the four purlins. Its lower end projects a short distance below the lowest purlin. Two other vertical thin rods of thatch rafter material and size are spaced on the left and four others on the right. These lie outside of the four purlins and are lashed to them at the crossings. Above, they meet the end rafters, to which they are lashed. Below, they project slightly beyond the upper level of the lowest side purlins. Two additional purlins are next attached to the vertical rods on either side of the mesial rod, and their outer ends to the end rafters. The lowest purlins are on the upper level of the lowest side purlins. The cutting short of the mesial vertical rod leaves a space for the end entrance. The purlins are pliable, and chocks (pono) are placed between the end crossbeam and the fourth purlin to push the framework out a little from the perpendicular (fig. 9, b). The chocks, pieces of hala wood 4 inches by 2 inches, are three in number. The longest chock (fig. 9, b, 13) is 11 inches long and is placed immediately behind the mesial rod. Two others, 9 inches long, are placed also between the end crossbeam and fourth end purlin but directly behind the vertical rods on either side of the mesial rod. The fourth purlin gives a little extra length, and any adjustment of the lashing at the ends can be dealt with after the chocks are placed in position. Thus the lower end of the framework is not only pushed out slightly from the vertical, but by means of the graduated chocks the fourth end purlin has a slight outward, convex curve.
Dimensions of completed framework: total length in middle line, 26 feet 2 inches; width between eaves rods, 23 feet 11 inches; height from floor to main ridgepole, 16 feet 5 inches; height from crossbeams to main ridgepole, 10 feet; height of eaves rods from ground, 3 feet.
Figure 9. End framework of house: a, end view from outside; b, section showing mesial rod pushed out from side with inserted chock. 1–4, horizontal purlins; 5, 6, additional purlins; 7, mesial rod; 8, vertical rods; 9, end pair of rafters; 10, side purlins; 11, end crossbeam; 12, lowest side purlins; 13, chock (pono); two vertical rods, one on either side of mesial rod, pushed out from side with shorter chocks.
The roof and ends were thatched with sheets of lauhala (rau whara; Pandanus leaves) in which the leaves were bent over strips of aërial hala rootlets. The rootlets (kawhara, not kai whara, or rootlets with lower ends still in the air) which had reached the ground were used. The prepared strips (kaho, pronounced “kaheo”) measured 4 finger spans (anga honu, finger span), or about 3 feet.
Figure 10. Roof sheet needle (tuiau) : a, upper view, needle pointed at both ends, left end of type needle (B. P. Bishop Museum, C. 2811) slightly blunter than other; b, side view, upper surface slightly concave longitudinally; c, cross-sections with upper surface to right, upper surface slightly flatter than other, side edges rounded off. Total length, 10 inches; middle width, 0.9 inch; middle thickness, 0.4 inch; section about halfway between middle and points, 0.8 inch wide and 0.3 inch thick.
A roof sheet needle (tuiau) made of ngangie wood was used to sew the leaves together over the kaho strip. (See fig. 10; pl. 1.) The needle was exactly similar in shape to that of Tongareva. The butt ends of the lauhala were doubled over the kaho strip in the same way as in Tongareva and the Cook Islands (27, p. 15). When the leaves were pierced transversely with the needle, dry coconut leaf midribs (tunikau) or thin strips of aerial hala rootlets were passed through the holes made and kept the leaves together. The sheet was made the full width of the kaho strip (3 feet) and when completed was also termed a kaho. The full supply of sheets was made and the thatching (ato) commenced. The technique is as follows:
Thatching (ato) commences from below and works upward. The first sheet of lauhala is laid across the thatch rafters just above the eaves rod at one end of the tua frame. The part doubled over the hala rod is toward the top, and the doubled-over butt ends of the leaves are outside. The end of a piece of sennit braid is tied to the thatch rafter with a running noose. The braid is carried over the edge of the sheet to the right of the rafter. A hole is punctured through the sheet below the contained rod and to the left of the rafter. The braid is passed back through the hole from the outside and makes either a half-hitch or an overhand knot with its standing part and so fixes the stiff upper edge of the sheet to the thatch rafter. Subsequent sheets are added a little higher up the rafter than the one preceding, and a similar fastening is made with the continuous braid. The method is exactly similar to that used in the page 77 Cook Islands (27, pp. 20–23). For piercing the holes through the sheets, the fingers are generally used, but it was said that a hooked thatching needle was sometimes used. (See pl. 1.) No local name could be remembered for the implement, and as the people boasted that their method of piercing holes with the fingers was much quicker than the Rarotongan method with the needle, it is probable that the thatching needle was introduced from that area but never became popular. A Rakahangan thatching needle made of ngangie wood is shown in figure 11. It resembles the roof thatch needle in its width, which exceeds that of similar implements from the Cook Islands (27, p. 19).
Figure 11. Thatching needle: a, upper surface view; b, side view. 1, notch point, used for puncturing thatch sheet; 2, notch, hooks up braid and draws it back through sheet; 3, upper surface, concave longitudinally and fairly flat transversely; 4, unnotched point, may be used in sewing sheet together; 5, lower surface, convex transversely, side edges rounded off. Length, 11 inches; mesial width, 1.2 inches; mesial thickness, 0.4 inch; notch point, 1.2 inches long; base of notch point, 0.7 inch wide and 0.4 inch thick; other point at same distance (1.2 inches) from end, only 0.2 inch thick; notch, 0.3 inch deep.
The thatcher works a width of one sheet until he reaches the ridgepole, when another strip of thatching is commenced with the adjacent edges of the new sheets slightly overlapping those already fixed. The completed upward width of one sheet is known as a marewa, and the length of the house is referred to in the number of marewa it takes to thatch one side of the roof. The thatcher works from the inside of the house, and as he works upward he ascends on the scaffolding within, which is allowed to remain until the thatching is completed. An assistant carries the roof sheets and places them in position from the outside. The thatcher within usually spaces the upper edge of the sheet from the one below by the number of fingerbreadths decided upon. The closer the sheets are together, the better the house, but close thatching takes more material in sheets and sennit and involves a corresponding increase in labor.
The assistant uses a lifting pole (tukutuku) made of whano wood (fig. 12) to place the sheets in position when the thatching rises beyond his reach. The point of the long pole is stuck into the outer surface of the sheet in the middle line just below the site of the transverse hala rod at the upper edge. The shoulder prevents the pole from going in too far. The assistant lifts up the sheet with the point and swings it into position above the last sheet tied. The thatcher within adjusts it accurately and then lashes it.
The roof ridging is attended to after both sides of the roof have been thatched. The lauhala sheets have been extended as high as the ridgepole. The first stage in the roof ridging consists of applying a double sheet of lauhala on either side with the upper edges meeting in an apex above the upper ridgepole. The two sheets of either side are then sewed together with two-ply twisted sennit cord. The two double sheets thus sewed together (uihau) extend from end to end of the ridge. The second stage consists of reversing two plaited coconut leaf mats (pora) (see p. 111) with the shiny upper surface of the leaflets on the outside. These are doubled over the uihau and kept in position by passing pointed wooden pins about 2 feet long through the mats from side to side, taking care that the pins pass through between the upper and main ridgepoles. The upper ridgepole prevents the pins from working upward and thus anchors the mats in position. The reason for reversing the two pora mats is that there may be one unsplit midrib edge on either side of the ridgepole to hold against the pins. The double mats are laid on with a slight overlap until the ridgepole is covered from end to end.
The ends of the house are also thatched with lauhala sheets, the sheets being tied to the vertical elements of the framework in the same way as in the roof thatching. Some adjustment is required in cutting some of the sheets to fit in with the changing width of the area covered. The ends of the lowest sheets on both the sides and the ends are cut off a little below the eaves rod in a straight line to form the eaves (turuturu). At the ends the eaves are 3 feet 2 inches above the ground, and on the sides, 3 feet.
A high platform (whata) was constructed in the old houses by laying longitudinal joists (tarawa), five on one side and four on the other to leave a space for an opening, over the crossbeams (vae), and then laying cross pieces or poles closely over the joists to form a floor (papa). (See fig. 13.)
Through the left side of the rectangular opening (ngutu whata, door of the platform) made in the middle of the floor by the use of shorter cross pieces on either side, the upper chamber formed by the platform was reached by means of a ladder (ara) placed in a slanting position. The ladder was formed of a stout piece of hala trunk with short cross pieces lashed on as steps. The upper story was also used as a dormitory and as a storage space, especially for the mature coconuts kept to form the takataka stage. In special houses set apart for the tribal gods, the bodies of dead chiefs were laid out on the high platform.
Figure 14. Interior arrangement of house: a, ground plan; b, detail of fence (apaapa). 1, inner sleeping division; 2, fence formed of uprights 2 feet to 2 feet 3 inches high, some of which are driven into ground to act as posts, and two horizontal rods lashed to uprights; 3, supporting posts; 4, openings in fence; 5, doorways of house.
The house platform (paepae) now seen in dwelling houses of the Raro-tongan type, is an innovation which accompanied the houses introduced by the missionary, Aporo, from Rarotonga. The old type of house was built on the flat ground without any raised platform. Curbstones, such as mark some of the Tongarevan houses, were not used.
The ground floor was usually divided by a low fence (apaapa) into an inner rectangular sleeping part and an outer part contiguous to the sides and used as a dining room. The site of the fence was guided by the position of the supporting posts of the roof. The fence had middle gaps opposite the house doorways in all four sides to give admittance to the inner sleeping part. (See fig. 14.)
Wall And Door Screens
Wall screens (pataro whani) of plaited coconut leaves were used to form side or end walls when required, there being no permanent walls as in the Rarotongan type of house. The eaves of the house were fairly low, so that the depth of one screen was enough to reach the ground. Above, the screens were tied to a convenient part of the framework and simply hung down. The wall so formed was termed haihai. For the technique of the screen, see page 111, and for their appearance when hung, see plate 1.
Doorways (ngutupa.) The structure of the end framework to provide for end entrances has been shown in figure 9. The middles of the sides were also used as entrances, but here one had to stoop below the eaves to enter. The doorways were closed with pataro whani mats identical in structure with the wall screens.
Figure 15. Portable house (whare taka) : 1, lower horizontal beam (hapai); 2, upright supporting post; 3, upper longitudinal beam (hapai); 4, 5, diagonal braces; 6, cross pieces; 7, longitudinal wall plates; 8, end pairs of principal rafters; 9, main ridgepole. (Native terminology as in figure 8.)
A small portable house (whare taka) was constructed without supporting posts fixed in the ground. (See fig. 15.) Short supporting posts were lashed to either end of longitudinal beams (hapai) laid on the ground. Other longitudinal beams, also termed hapai, were lashed to the tops of the short posts. Two diagonal crossed braces used on each side to brace the two longitudinal beams and posts together were lashed at the corners and at the point of crossing. The two sides so formed were held upright, and cross pieces were laid across the upper longitudinal beams and lashed. The longitudinal wall plates were laid over the ends of the cross beams. The addition of principal rafters, purlins, thatch rafters, upper ridgepole, and eaves rod follows the method described on page 74.
Whare Tuku Whakararo
A low house without supporting posts (whare tuku whakararo, house let down) was, as the name implies, let down to the ground by doing away with the supporting posts (pou), longitudinal beams (hapai), crossbeams (vae), and wall plate (kaupapa). Thus the principal rafters rested directly on the ground and formed a roof without walls. The house (fig. 16) was built for use in the hurricane season. As it had no side walls, the wind could not get under the roof to blow it away. The framework technique follows that already described.
Rarotongan Types Of Houses
Two variations of the Rrarotongan type of house introduced by the missionaries are shown in plate 1. The ridgepole is supported directly by end posts. Wall posts along the sides support a wall plate, also directly. The principal rafters extend between the ridgepole and wall plate, but their upper ends are crossed above the main ridgepole instead of below it. The upper ridgepole then rests in the forks formed by the principal rafters. The details of the Rarotongan form of framework have been described (27, p. 4).
One of the houses, used as an assembly place, has straight thatching at the ends and to almost the level of the side eaves. Below the thatching of the sides and ends the house is open. The other house is used for sleeping, and as a result of missionary influence, no doubt, the sides and ends are walled in. The walls receive the Rarotongan name, paruru, as they differ from the local haihai of movable screen sheets. The walls have also departed from the Rarotongan pattern in that the rods used to fill in the spaces between the wall posts are attached horizontally instead of vertically. The end thatching is also projected outward at its lower end to form a veranda. A raised platform of lime surrounds the house.page 82
A third variation (fig. 17), which is popular in small dwelling houses, consists of carrying the outward projection of the tara (p1. 1, B, 1) to both ends and on the two sides. The small house is thus surrounded by a wide veranda on all four sides, and when set on a raised platform, the covered area looks more extensive than the space actually contained within the walls. The principle, however, of providing plenty of veranda space is a sound one for the tropics.
Seats (nohoanga). Though the people usually sat on mats on the ground, a wooden seat (fig. 18) was made of tou timber. The seat was rectangular with the slightest curve from side to side and was supported by four legs all cut out of the solid timber with the seat. It was maintained that these were made in Rakahanga in olden times.
The seats are much less curved than those of the Cook Islands (27, p. 43), and the lower ends of the legs are plain and without the heart-shaped feet characteristic of the islands to the south.
Figure 18. Wooden seat (nohoanga) : a, side view; b, end view. 1, rectangular seat, 24.25 inches long, 9.25 inches wide, and 1 inch thick, upper surface 7 inches from ground at either end and 6.5 inches at middle; 2, legs; 3, elliptical cross section of leg at junction with seat, 3.4 inches in transverse axis of seat and 1.9 inches in longitudinal axis of seat; 4, round cross-section of leg base, diameter 1.5 inches.
A round wooden box (puiha) 10 inches in diameter at the bottom, 8 inches at the top, and 9 inches high, was seen. It had ten short legs 0.25 inch high and 0.5 inch by 0.4 inch in cross section. The upper edge had an inner raised rim which fitted against an outer raised rim on the edge of a wooden lid, which was provided with a perforated knob in the center of its upper surface. A perforated lug at the opposite ends of a diameter had been cut out of the solid on the outer surface of the box. A cord passed through the lugs and the lid knob to fasten the lid in position. As turuma was an alternative name given to the box, I pointed out that the term tuluma and the details of the box construction existed in the Tokelau Islands. At first it was stoutly maintained that the box was native to Rakahanga, but later an old man conversant with its history was found who stated that it was brought from Tokelau by Tuteru-utua, who acquired it during his wanderings after being deposed from the position of Whakaheo. The wooden box, therefore, does not belong to the local culture, but the box and the incident are described here to clarify the position and prevent its being accepted when no further historical check may be available.
Brooms (ruruku tu nikau) were made of coconut leaflet midribs (tu nikau) which were bound together (ruruku). The midribs, as they were detached, were torn off with a jerk which brought away a thin strip of the main leaf midrib. Then the thin ends were plaited together in a three-ply braid until a sufficient quantity was thus provided. The braided end was then rolled to form the midribs into a bundle, which was bound below the braided ends. With such brooms the houses were swept clean. The same form of broom is common in the Cook Islands and other islands, and exists in Samoa.