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Samoan Material Culture



Kilts. The ti leaf kilt with a three-ply braided waist cord was common to both areas as the usual garment for rough wear. Kilts made of strips of bast for use in dances are also common to both areas as are also the methods of attaching the bast strips to a single or a double suspensory cord. In the further development of such garments, however, Samoa confined itself to a plaiting technique in check or twill with an ornamental finish in three-ply braid tails in the 'ie tutu pupu'u textile kilts. There is no trace of the single-pair twine being used in garments though the technique was much used in fish traps. In eastern Polynesia, the single-pair twine is found in the bast kilts of the Cook Islands and several spaced rows were used in the garment technique of the Society Islands, Tuamotus and Rapa. In New Zealand, the single-pair twine (38, p. 71) formed the foundation from which the extensive and varied downward weaving technique of that locality was developed.

Tagged garments. The Samoan shaggy garments made with a check plait and completely covered with tags of fibre are characteristic of Samoan culture. The New Zealand rain capes and cloaks also completely covered with fibrous tags have a superficial resemblance to the Samoan garments but they are made with a spaced single-pair twine or a two-pair interlocking weft and have no affinity with them either in general technique or the method of attaching the tags.

Fine mats. The Samoan fine mats used as ceremonial skirts and a unit of value, mark a high development in fine check plaiting. Though no such mats were evidently made in eastern Polynesia, the Hawaiians were capable of even finer plaiting than the Samoans. A very fine Samoan mat may have as many as 22 wefts to the inch but a Hawaiian plaited malo girdle in Bishop Museum contains no less than 31 wefts to the inch. Samoan technique shows an advance in the splitting of the pandanus leaf into two layers to provide the thin anterior layer as plaiting material. As a regular technique this does not seem to have been present in the east though the Cook Islanders split off the anterior layer to provide the material for the dyed wefts used in the overlaid plaiting of the decorative borders of their sleeping mats.

Featherwork. Samoan featherwork though not extensive was important as the valuable fine mats were not complete without it. The feathers were not woven into the edges of the fine mats as Linton states (19, p. 454). They were caught in the knots of a fine thread as already shown and the thread bearing the feathers was sewn along the edge of the mat by another thread. page 669The feather kilts and one form of addition to the tuinga headdress consisted of strings of feathers knotted in the same way. The technique of knotting feathers to a thread was described by Ling Roth (38, p. 144) in some warps of an old Maori cloak but it seems to have been an abnormal instance. The technique of feather work in eastern Polynesia consists of no less than three methods, all of which are listed by Linton. In Hawaii and the Society Islands, the feathers were tied by a separate thread to the meshes of the network which formed the basis of the cloak or girdle. In the Marquesas, the feathers were pasted to the material they had to decorate. In New Zealand, the feathers were fixed to the warps by the weft elements as the weaving of the garment proceeded. There is nothing common in the technique of the four methods of the Polynesian area enumerated but each method of feather fixation has been influenced by the form of the base they had to decorate. There is yet another form of feather fixation seen in feather frontlets in which the feathers are included in a plaited braid but there is no affinity to Samoan work.

Bark cloth. The paper mulberry and the manufacture of bark cloth are found throughout Polynesia. Different methods depending on the presence or absence of felting occur between the eastern and western areas. In eastern Polynesia, the paper mulberry bast is soaked in water for some time, allowed to drain and then beaten out in one continuous sheet to the required thickness. The bast strips are joined by the felting together of the bast fibres. Round beaters may be used in the preliminary stages of beating but the cloth is finished off invariably with four-sided beaters with parallel sides and parallel grooves set close together. The close grooves may impart a watermark to the cloth but in the Society Islands and Hawaii, special watermarks are carved on the finishing beaters. The watermarked beaters reach their highest development in Hawaii. The finished cloth is decorated by immersion in a dye, freehand painting or stamping with leaves, flowers, special frames, or stamps cut out of wood. In stamping, the stamping object must be dipped in the dye and then applied directly to the cloth. In Samoa, the bast is not soaked for long in the water but is scraped soon with a variety of shells to remove as much of the mucilaginous material as possible. It is thus so dry that when several strips are beaten together, the material from each strip of bast comes out as a separate thin strip of cloth and is not felted to the material of other strips. The Samoan beaters are shorter and wider than those of the east, the side edges are not parallel but are splayed outwards towards the distal ends and the grooves are much wider apart and like the side edges are not parallel. There are thus neither fine grooves nor special watermarks on the Samoan implements as the technique employed does not use felting. Round beaters are also used. The single thin strips of cloth are joined together by pasting page 670not only to produce area but also thickness. The completed cloth may be dyed by immersion or painted freehand but stamping is not used. The method of rubbing each sheet with a dye after it is placed on an upeti tablet frame has been described in detail and constitutes another important difference between the methods of east and west Polynesia.

Types of beater. From the difference of the two methods of beating the bast, the marked difference in the types of beater from the two areas can be readily understood. The Samoan method did not require the close parallel grooves as a finishing stage in a felting process and consequently they were not cut on the beaters as they were unnecessary. The paper mulberry was carried to New Zealand by the ancestors of the Maori but the manufacture of bark cloth was abandoned as a clothing technique. Two bark cloth beaters (38, p. 10) dredged up from under some feet of silt and gravel in Whangarei Harbor were carved with close parallel grooves and thus link the technique of the abandoned culture trait with the method of manufacture used in eastern Polynesia.