Ethnology of Manihiki and Rakahanga
Plaiting with Lauhala
Plaiting with Lauhala
The hala (Pandanus) grows on all the islands without cultivation. Though whara is the general name, that term is especially applied to the mature plant which has developed a long trunk. The young plant which has no length of trunk is distinguished as puwhara; and it is from this plant that mats and clothing are made, whereas the leaves of the whara serve for roof thatch. The preparation, according to my informants, is as follows:
The puwhara is cut down and the leaves cut off. The leaves are individually passed over the fire (parara ki te ahi) and then exposed to the sun (haumtaki ki te ra:haumaki, expose to the sun; Cook Islands, tauraki) for two days. The spines on the page 126 back of the leaf midrib are removed by splitting off with the teeth the strip carrying the spines. A pearl shell implement is used to smooth out the leaves. If the shell is large it is called parau but if small, kati. The butt end of the leaf is held with the left hand and the shell is run along the under side of the leaf. This process (vautua) spreads out the wrinkles caused by drying and smooths and softens the material. The leaves are again exposed to the sun for three or four days.
Each leaf is then wound around the hand, commencing with the butt end. This opens out the leaf. A reverse winding is then made on the other hand, which leaves the butt end on the outside. The side edges (papita) of the leaf are split off (tete) with a kuku shell. Other leaves are added to form a large roll (pipiti). The process of rolling is termed tupe. The end of the added leaf is always placed under the end of the preceding leaf. The pipiti rolls are fastened with a strip of lauhala passed through the central hole and tied around one radius of the roll. These are stored for use.
In preparing the material for plaiting, the roll is first beaten on the ground (ka tuki te pipiti). The leaves are again scraped (haro) along the back with a shell to soften the material (kia paruparu). The leaf is split off on either side of the midrib, which is discarded. The worker then deals with the half leaves. The butt end of the leaf is the pu and the tip end, the hiku. The half leaf is split (tete) into wefts of the desired width. Mats with wide wefts are termed kiri maraia and those with narrow wefts, moenga kuti.
In plaiting mats, double wefts (tuarua) are used. To form a double weft, the dull surfaces of the wefts are placed in opposition so that the shiny (tua) surface will be exposed on both sides of the double weft.
The mats made from lauhala are used for sleeping upon and are hence termed moenga (moe, to sleep). The tua surface of the lauhala of the warmer atolls seems to have a better appearance than the material used in the Cook Islands. The women of Manihiki and Rakahanga are regarded as good plaiters. The sleeping mats made of double wefts and embellished with colored designs in overlaid plaiting are much admired and sought after. The commencement technique is as follows:
As applied with double wefts, the commencement technique (whatu) does not differ from that of the Samoan papa mats (28, pp. 214–216) which may be compared for technical details. (See pl. 6, C.)
The plaiting stroke throughout is the check. Colored designs are worked in after the completion of the mat with overlaid material formed of the upper layer (papa) of the lauhala separated in thin sheets after heating the leaf. The material is now dyed with trade dyes. It is split to the same width as the mat wefts, and geometrical designs are worked by filling in a series of weft squares. Dextral strips to cover the dextral squares are pushed under the crossing sinistrals. The sinistrals are then covered by sinistral strips which are pushed under the crossing dextrals. Large designs are worked and give a pleasing effect.
The length of a mat is roa and the width, kakano. The edges are termed tamore.
Baskets are now extensively made from lauhala, but little doubt can exist that this form of the craft has come in by diffusion from Cook Islands in the post-missionary period. However, the baskets warrant a brief description, for, though comparatively recent, they are nevertheless essentially Polynesian in technique and have been adopted and varied in the local culture. The lauhala baskets are of two types, the two-cornered and the four-cornered satchels:
1. The two-cornered satchel (fig. 42; pl. 5, A, 2). This basket conforms in all details except ornamentation to the baskets made in Cook Islands. The wefts are single strips 0.15 inch to 0.2 inch wide. The check stroke is used throughout. The basket is plaited like a strip of mat for twice the required length. The ends are brought together and the triangular gap filled in by plaiting the free marginal wefts of each end. This forms a plaited cuff, or cylinder, which is plaited in sections to the required depth. The cuff is turned inside out and the sides brought together to compress the bottom opening into a longitudinal line.
The bottom is closed (fig. 42) along the longitudinal line in a simple manner by check plaiting in two courses, which is really the beginning technique of a braid which is not developed by twisting in the plies. The dextral and sinistral wefts on either side of the median line run in opposite directions. In the first course the set of wefts on either side that inclines toward the plaiter is used, and in the second course both sets are finally disposed of.
Figure 42. Two-cornered lauhala satchel, bottom closure, a, to avoid confusion, it is convenient to apply term “inward” to wefts on either side directed toward the plaiter and “outward” to those directed away from her; plaiting commences on far end of longitudinal line forming unclosed bottom; in making start, certain wefts (10) do not readily fit into scheme of check crossing and are left out to be disposed of later; selecting inward weft (1) on right, this is crossed diagonally over middle line in its natural course; on left, inward weft meets outward weft (1′) which is bent back over its crossing weft (4) and lies paired with inward weft (1) above it; next inward weft (2) taken from left and crossed over previous inward weft (1) in check stroke; meets outward weft (2′) on right, which, in turn, is bent back to form paired weft; right inward weft (3) crosses over in check and turns back outward weft (3′); similarly inward wefts (4, 5, 6) crossed in check from alternate sides and each pair with outward wefts (4′, 5′, page 128 6′) on opposite sides which are turned back under them. b, right inward weft (5) raised; complementary outward weft (5′) doubled back over its crossing weft (7) and ready for inward weft (5) to be crossed over weft 4 in check technique; next inward weft (6) raised while its complementary outward weft (6′) bent back ready to receive inward weft (6) on its upper surface when next check stroke is made; thus inward wefts form check crossings of single elements to close longitudinal open slit of bottom, but when they cross, they turn back corresponding outward weft and form double wefts on far side of middle line; this continued for length of bottom; first course thus closes opening with crossed single wefts, but technique arranges all wefts into double wefts directed toward plaiter on both sides of middle line, c, bottom reversed so double wefts on either side of middle line of single checks directed away from plaiter. d, second course commences at far end by doubling first two double wefts (1, 2) down middle line, e, double wefts plaited in check alternately from either side, but as they consist of double elements, it is better to deal with each individually; double weft on left selected as first to cross; its upper element (3) doubled back across middle line thus exposing under element (3′) which was originally a doubled-back outward weft. f, doubled-back under element (3′) straightened out over its pair mate (3). g, double weft (4,4′) on right crossed over in two similar movements, h, technique established and double wefts (5, 6, 7, 8, 9) successively crossed from alternate sides; under elements of wefts pulled taut so as to make check technique close and firm; double weft (9) last to be brought over from left to cross preceding weft (8); next weft (10) from the right has been covered by weft 7, which has to be lifted to allow weft 10 to be turned back over weft 9 in middle line; so throughout plaiting. i, last two double wefts (1, 2) on near end of mesial line crossed and continued with loose elements left out of commencement (a, 10) shown as 3, continued as free braid tail (4), and finished off with overhand knot; in second course, check stroke made with double wefts over middle line; weft ends, if too long, cut to form short fringe on either side as shown.
The rim is finished off with a last working section to form serrations after the style of the pointed pite (fig. 33). Below the serrations the wefts are carried on in a plaited band to fix the weft ends. The technique is exactly the same as in the lauhala baskets of Aitutaki (27, p. 197). The basket is turned again and the bottom closure with the finishing rim cuff is concealed within. A handle of plaited lauhala is sewn on by the ends to the middle of the inner sides of the rim. Various designs in overlaid plaiting are made on the sides with the thin papa material in color.
2. The four-cornered satchel (figs. 43, 44; pl. 5, A, 5–6). This basket has come into great favor and large numbers are made to give away as gifts to friends and visitors. Single wefts are used with the check stroke. The technique differs in principle from the two-cornered basket. In the two-cornered satchel the corners are formed by the ends of the straight braid which closes one opening of a plaited cuff. In the four-cornered satchel the bottom is formed of plaited material first, and four corners are then turned, from which the wefts are directed upward at right angles to the bottom plane to form the sides and ends. (See fig. 43.) The size of the bottom varies. A fair average for the smaller satchels is 8 inches by 2.5 inches. The shape also varies, from rectangular to square. The plaiting of the sides and ends continues by working sections until a depth of 5.5 inches or more is reached. The upper edge is formed by turning down the top dextral at the working edge to lie on the sinistral placed in the shed. This is done successively throughout the length of the rim. The lower ends of the turned-down dextrals are left projecting on the outer surface. These are afterwards cut off, and the free ends are tucked in under a crossing weft and are thus not seen from the outside. The rim forms a smooth, even edge from the downward half-turn of the dextrals. (For detailed technique see 27, p. 202.)
Figure 43. Four-cornered satchel, bottom and corner technique. Wefts plaited in check until area indicated by dotted lines is large enough to form bottom; with plaited bottom before her, plaiter selects suitable line of width on left; this line, indicated by left vertical dotted line, runs out at edges of plaiting above (far) and below (near); at these points corners formed by crossing two adjacent wefts at right angles to their previous course—in upper left corner, 4 and 5; to comply with check technique, weft 5 crossed over 4 and each plaited in check with set of wefts it encounters; lower left corner formed in similar way, 4′ over 5′; plaiting sections to outer sides of left and far dotted lines marking bounds of bottom are bent up at right angles, and gap at upper left corner between near series (5′–3) and far series (6–9) is closed and the two series will cross each other diagonally; nothing remains but to interlace them in check plaiting until corner clearly defined and part of far side and left end of satchel completed; near left corner treated similarly; to form corners on right, plaiting of bottom must be continued to right until length of bottom secured by coincidence of right vertical dotted line with far and near edges of plaiting; in figure, bottom will be slightly wider on right than left; this due to error in counting, illustrates what sometimes happens in actual plaiting; plaiter, realizing mistake, would uncross wefts 5 and 6 and remove weft 19, uncross wefts 5′ and 6′ at near corner and remove weft 17′; corners would be built up in same way on left.
A still more modern note is struck in some of the wider bottomed satchels. The ends are bent inward by creasing the middle. The sides of the rim are brought together and kept closed with a dome fastener sewed to the inner side of the rim. The resemblance to the ladies' handbags of western culture is striking, and the idea was probably obtained from them.
The wide range of the geometrical designs used included the chevron, triangle, and lozenge in various combinations, together with more complicated figures, as shown in figure 44.
The satchel is made in exactly the same way as the two-cornered lauhala satchel as regards the serrated rim and bottom closure, but the plait is in twill, which is changed to various combinations to obtain structural decoration.
The use of the specially prepared coconut leaflet material is a comparatively recent introduction and was stimulated by the fashion of making hats of the Panama type. The first person to use the coconut leaf was a woman from the Gilbert Islands who had married a Rakahangan. She, however, kept her process of preparing the material a secret. For a considerable time the Rakahangan craftswomen puzzled over the excellence of the material and endeavored to solve the secret. At last one struck upon the method of boiling the leaflets to enable them to be split. The discoverer of the method proudly told me that her method was superior to that of the Gilbert Islands woman who, as it was subsequently found when secrecy was useless, ran the leaflets quickly over a lighted fire. From then on, the people of the atolls used coconut leaflet instead of lauhala for their hats, which are beautifully made and provide some income.
Fans (tahiri) are made from the ordinary coconut leaf dried to a brown color in the sun and from the beautifully white prepared leaflets now used in the manufacture of hats. The brown fans are made of sections of leaf midrib with the bilateral leaflets attached naturally. A part of the midrib serves as a handle. The closed leaflets are generally plaited in check, but sometimes the twill is used. Two varieties of brown fan were seen, one composed of a single section of leaf and another of two sections, and one type of white fan:
1. Single-section fan (fig. 45) made of a midrib section 11 inches long with nine pairs of leaflets. Technique shown in the figure.
2. Two-section fan (fig. 46) made of a piece of midrib 8.25 inches long carrying five pairs of leaflets and a shorter piece 7.5 inches long carrying four pairs of leaflets. Technique shown in the figure. A larger two-section fan, plaited partly in twill, is shown in plate 5, B, 3.
3. The white fan (pl. 5, B, I-2) is neatly made of individual doubled wefts doubled around a thin wooden handle. The handle consists of a rod about 0.6 inch in diameter, which is left at its natural thickness for 4 inches and then cut down to a thin rod for about 9 inches to give support to the wefts. The wefts are added from the handle upward, each weft being doubled around the rod and plaited in check over the front in much the same manner as the two-section brown fan, the rod supplying the place of the leaf midrib. The wefts are then plaited in twilled-twos and twilled-threes and finished off in check toward the curved distal end. A fringe of dyed tou bast 2.75 inches long is caught in the plaiting and gives a characteristic finish. The fan is really a modern adaptation of the technique of the brown fan in plate 5, B, 3, and a detailed description of technique is unnecessary.page 132
Figure 45. Single-section coconut leaf fan, leaflets short in figures to save space. a, butt end of midrib proximal with natural upper surface upward; leaflets kept closed with leaflet midrib forming far edge of wefts; leaflets on right twisted forward under butt end of leaflet in front, commencing from butt; thus nearest leaflet (1) twisted under leaflet 2 in front of it and 2 under 3, 3 under 4, in succession until leaflet 6 twisted under leaflet 7 in front of it; this ends twisting, for leaflet 7 acts as locking weft by passing over 8, under 9, to be drawn toward left to lie parallel with left end weft (9′). b, right leaflets plaited in check, nearest (1) being bent with upward half-turn to run parallel with midrib (10) and pass over and under intervening wefts (2–9) in check technique; next weft (2) similarly treated and so successively are wefts 3–6, upward half-turn of each weft places midrib edge of closed leaflets on right; when sixth weft (6) turned, remaining two wefts (8, 9) left as they are. c. left leaflets twisted in similar manner to those on right as far as sixth (6′); seventh (7′) crossed over to other side as locking weft but in fan examined crossed over both 8′ and 9′ instead of under 8′ and over 9′ due to slip in technique; wefts 1′ to 6′ bent successively with upward half-turn and continue check technique; last two wefts (8′, 9′) left as they are; left wefts (7′, 1′) carried across in check technique through right wefts to reach edge on right defined by weft 6; left wefts (2′–6′) cut short after crossing weft 9′, but in practice are full length; when plaited portions tightened up, right weft (7) will come over to left and lie parallel to 9′. d, wefts from right have crossed over to left and those from left, to right, check stroke being continued; dextral wefts (8, 9, 7′, 1′) on right edge have been doubled over weft 6 to define right far edge and ends passed down under crossing wefts which keep them in position, any excessive length being torn off; similarly on left, sinistrals 8′, 9′, 7, and 1 will be doubled over bounding weft (6′); when wefts above crossing weft (6′) as 8′ and 7, they are doubled over backward and when they are behind as 9′ and 1, they are doubled forward; bounding weft (6′) doubled backward on itself and passed under crossing wefts to fix it. e, in completed fan bounding weft (6) on right has been doubled over first weft (1′) and then passed under crossing wefts (7′, 9, 8) where its cut-off end projects on near side of 8; similarly on left, bounding weft (6′) has been bent backward around the first weft (1) and at back under crossing wefts (7,9′,8′); intervening weft ends dealt with in pairs of which sinistral weft under dextral; first pair on right (5, 2′ in d) supplies the technique; under sinistral 5 doubled over dextral 2′ and follows its first part by passing under crossing wefts 7′ and 8; the dextral weft (2′) doubled over second part of 5 and passes under crossing wefts; other three pairs similarly treated and fan completed with straight serrated edge.
Figure 46. Two-section coconut leaf fan. a, longer section (10) with five pairs of leaflets placed above shorter section (11) with four pairs of leaflets, so that leaflets of under section fall into intervals of those of upper section; lower section leaflets shaded in figure; thus nine leaflets on either side. b, leaflets alternately crossed to opposite sides, commencing with right side; right upper leaflet (1) crossed to left and left upper leaflet (1′) crossed over it to right; next lower leaflet (2) on right crossed over preceding crossed leaflet (1′) on its way to left and next left lower leaflet (2′) in its turn crosses over preceding crossed leaflet (2) on its way to right; each leaflet crosses alternately from either side and either section until all leaflets have crossed concluding with 9′ over 9. c, nearest right leaflet (1′) bent with upward half-turn, passes under next leaflet (2′), and runs parallel with midrib to cross all successive leaflets (3′–9′) in check stroke; next right leaflet (2′) similarly treated and so in succession to sixth leaflet (6′); last three leaflets (7′, 8′, 9′) left as they are; first leaflet (1′) inclined to left as locking weft and made to lie parallel with left last leaflet (9); other right leaflets (2′–6′) turned in plaiting also incline to left. d, first six leaflets (1–6) on left successively bent with backward half-turn and plaited in check in similar manner to those on right; first of series (1) acts as locking weft and is inclined to right where it reaches right far edge defined by weft 6′; others follow suit and last three wefts (7, 8, 9) on left unturned; all crossing wefts plaited in check and point of plaiting formed by crossing of bounding wefts (6′, 6). e, of two bounding wefts, under weft (6′) doubled over crossing weft (6) and brought back along its previous marginal course to pass under crossing wefts (4, 2, 9′, 7′) where its cut-off end projects on near side of last weft (7′); weft ends on right doubled over double marginal weft (6′), those above it (4, 2, 9′, 7′) being doubled back and passed under one or more crossing wefts to fix ends; alternate wefts (8′, 1, 3, 5) under marginal weft (6′) doubled forward over it and ends tucked under nearest crossing weft; left marginal weft (6) doubled over second crossing part of weft 6′ and interlaced in check corresponding to its former course where its end (6) projects on near side of last crossing weft (7); weft ends on left far edge treated in exactly same manner as on the right, wefts behind marginal weft (6) being doubled upward over it and those in front being doubled backward; fan thus completed with straight far edges which meet in median point.