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Samoan Material Culture



For comparative purposes, canoes must be dealt with in two distinct divisions; the dugout and the plank canoe. The simple dugout consists of a hollowed-out section of tree trunk. In some islands, where trees of sufficient length of straight trunk were or had become scarce, the dugout hull may be formed of two or more sections joined together transversely. In New Zealand, on the other hand, large war canoes were formed of three pieces to get an upward curve at the ends. The small dugout is for use within the sheltered waters of the lagoon. It may be deepened by building up the sides with plank gunwales. The addition of a gunwale on either side forms a three-piece canoe which is in common use both east and west. For use outside the lagoon, the dugout hull was made larger and was built up with deeper gunwales. To prevent waves washing in over the bow or stern, bow and stern pieces were page 672added. The bow piece took the form of a long cover or was made shorter with a transverse vertical breakwater. This constituted the five-piece canoe that Linton (19, p. 450) showed as characteristic of the eastern marginal cultures. It is a higher development of the dugout canoe made for use in the open sea. The plank canoe was made of tiers of short planks built up from a mesial piece which served as a keel but was not a dugout. The plank canoes were carvel-built with the edges of the planks accurately fitted together and lashed edge to edge. Both the five-piece canoe and the plank canoe were used in the eastern and western areas. It is in the principles of technique and the divergences from the common forms that the real difference lies between east and west.

Technique. An outstanding difference in technique lies in the method by which the separate gunwales and planks were joined together. The most widely spread and evidently the oldest method consisted of boring holes right through the wood from side to side in opposite pairs near the edges. The lashing thus showed on both the inside and the outside of the canoe. After lashing one pair of holes, it was usual to carry the braid along the inside of the canoe to the next pair of holes and thus form a continuous lashing. The other main method of boring holes through projecting flanges formed on the inner side of the plank edges has been described in full in this work. After lashing each pair of holes, the braid is fixed and cut off. The lashing is thus interrupted and shows on the inner side only of the canoe. An intermediate form of lashing consists of boring oblique holes from the same surfaces of two planks so as to meet on the edge surfaces that are fitted together. In this method the planks must be fairly thick but there are no projecting flanges. The lashings show on one side only. The three forms of lashing may be referred to as the right-through, the flange, and the oblique methods.

Simple dugout. The simple dugout while common throughout Polynesia is characterized in Samoa by a deep vertical or even concave cutwater at the bow with a sharp projection forward at the upper end. The usual dugout in the eastern area is marked by a long gradual slope upwards to a pointed bow. In some islands, however, the sharp cutwater is seen but it is not so deep usually as the Samoan. On the other hand, the gradually sloped bow is present in the smaller left canoe of the double 'alia of Samoa. The transverse join of the dugout hull is not seen in Samoa while it is common in the east.

Five-piece canoe. The five-piece canoe was present in Samoa in the 'iato lima type while the five-piece bonito canoe with a dugout hull is supplanting the plank bonito canoe in some parts of the group. The bow and stern covers are flat or conform to the slight upward curve of the ends. There is no break-water, forward bow or upward stern projections. Ornamentation takes the page 673form of mesial rows of white pule shells attached to knobs on the upper surfaces of the bow and stern covers. The forward and upward projections at bow and stern for ornamentation that were present in the taumualua type of canoe alone were an innovation to that type which was first built by an American in 1849. The gunwales in the bonito canoe are attached by the flange method of lashing and the covers by a combination of the flange and right-through methods. The eastern five-piece canoe is characterized by the right-through method of lashing. As Linton pointed out, the forward bow and upward stern projections were present in the Society Islands, New Zealand, and the Marquesas. They form an ornamental addition to a simpler original form. The addition of a breakwater to the bow piece or cover were present in New Zealand and the Marquesas and are to be seen on the small sea fishing canoes of Tahiti at the present time.

Plank canoe. The plank canoe in Samoa is characterized by the flange join with interrupted lashings. The gunwales may have an alternating series of oblique lashings with the lashings showing on the outside. The eastern plank canoe, is characterized by right-through lashings of the continuous type though they may be interrupted here and there. This feature was observed in a plank sailing canoe from Raiatea seen in Tahiti and in a Tuamotu plank canoe in Bishop Museum. That the old voyaging canoes were lashed with the same technique is shown by the following quotation from Teuira Henry (15, pp. 549, 550) regarding the building of the famous Hohoio canoe of Hiro:

Holes were bored into the keel and planks at even distances apart, and the men set to work in the following order: Hatu, the chief of Hiro's artisans, worked on the outer side to the right of the canoe, and Tau-mariari, his assistant, worked on the inner side; Memeru, the royal artisan of Opoa, worked on the outer side to the left of the canoe, and his assistant, Ma'i-hae, worked on the inner side. Each couple faced each other, fixing the planks in their places and drawing the sennit in and out in lacing the wood together; and the canoe soon began to assume form, the bows facing the sea. To make the work light, they sang.

Te Pehe O Hiro (The Song of Hiro.)
E aha ta'u, e Tane e, What have I, O Tane,
Tane, atua no te purotu e? O Tane, god of beauty?
E 'aha. 'Tis sennit.
E 'aha o te hui o te ra'i, 'Tis sennit of the host of heaven,
E 'aha na'u e Tane e! 'Tis sennit for thee, O Tane!
E tui i roto, e puputa i vaho, Thread it from the inside, it comes outside,
E tui i vaho, e puputa i roto. Thread it from the outside, it goes inside.
Nati hua, nati mau. Tie it fully, tie it fast.

Hiro, a noted explorer and ancestor of eastern Polynesia, was a contemporary of the Rarotongan ancestor, Tangiia, and lived four generations before the colonizing fleet set out from the Society Islands to New Zealand in approximately 1350 A. D. Thus neither the old nor the recent plank canoes of page 674the Society Islands have any affinity in lashing technique with the plank canoe of Samoa.

Seam battens. The right-through method of lashing in repairing split planks has been described for Samoa. In New Zealand and the Marquesas, the right-through lashing of the gunwales was supplemented by placing battens over the seam before the lashings were made. This specialized technique has also been observed in Samoa in one form of repairing split planks and in connection with the gunwale lashing of a model double canoe. The eastern technique was thus known in Samoa but its general use was evidently supplanted by the flange method. The historic discussion by the Samoan guild of builders as to whether sennit braid should be used first on the house or the canoe associates the introduction of the Samoan canoe technique with that of the house with the rounded ends. There is no evidence that the flange canoe technique ever reached the Society Islands.

Outrigger. Details of the various forms of outrigger construction in the different parts of the eastern area require to be recorded and analyzed before full comparisons can be made between east and west. If New Zealand, the Marquesas, and Hawaii are regarded as retaining the oldest form of culture in the five-piece canoe, Hawaii owing to the absence of the specialized projection of the bow and stern pieces, may be regarded as retaining a simpler and older form than the other two. If this is so, the Hawaiian form of direct attachment between the outrigger boom and the float assumes a significant value. The Hawaiian booms are strong stiff pieces with an outward downward curve to meet the lower level of the float. The Marquesan boom, according to Linton (19, p. 309), was connected indirectly with the float by four to six sticks, the present stave connection being a modern invention. In New Zealand, though the outrigger was eventually abandoned, an old float discovered in Moncks Cave and described by Skinner (30, p. 364) shows by the presence of holes for connecting pegs that the indirect form of attachment had been in use. The indirect form of attachment is the common form in the eastern area. In the Society Islands, however, a mixed technique exists in that the fore boom is indirect and the aft boom direct. For security, the float depends upon the stout fore boom with the firm attachment of indirect pegs and a suspensory cord. The aft boom is thinner and purposely so selected for its flexibility to enable it to give to the movement of the waves. In the larger canoes, the boom runs out horizontally from the gunwale and then curves down to meet the upper surface of the float to which it is directly attached by a lashing passing through a hole cut through the float. In the small canoes, the aft booms looks ridiculously thin and frail. They are formed of a short length of thicker wood from which a thinner branch springs. The thicker piece is lashed to the two gunwales with the thin branch projecting page 675upwards and outwards on the left side of the canoe. The thin branch is then bent over in a curve with its arch projecting well above the level of the gunwales. The outer end is attached to the float either directly by insertion into a hole on its upper surface or indirectly by lashing to a wooden peg driven into the float. A metal nail now usually takes the place of the peg. The slender boom is usually lashed to the peg so that it touches the float but cases were seen in which the boom was lashed to the peg a couple of inches or so above the float. Thus even with the slender aft boom both a direct and an indirect form of attachment occurred. The attachment of the aft boom in the Society Islands marks a local development and creates another point of divergence from the Samoan canoe technique in which a rigid straight aft boom is attached to the float by four longer indirect pegs in the same manner as the fore boom.

Peg lashings. Another curious development in Tahiti is the method of lashing the float peg connections to the fore boom. After inserting the sharpened lower ends of the pegs into holes in the float, the upper ends are brought against the sides of the boom either singly or in pairs. The single pegs have the upper ends projecting above the boom and the lashings consist of oblique turns taken round both elements and finished off with transverse turns taken round the oblique turns between the peg and the boom. The paired pegs, however, have the upper ends cut obliquely to fit accurately against the sides of the boom without projecting above it. The two pegs and the boom on either side of the meeting point form four arms. The commencement end of the lashing braid is fixed and then makes a complete turn round each arm in turn, the crossing over from one arm to the adjacent arm being on the upper surface. The turns are continued, each round being on the outer side of the previous round and close to it. The technique is wrapped work and is the same as that of the New Zealand fly flap. A large single lozenge-shaped pattern is produced on the upper surface of the boom with the points extending along the boom on either side and along the pegs fore and aft. The upper ends of the two pegs are completely concealed. In the Samoan lashing, as we have seen, the ends of the paired pegs project above the sides of the boom and are never concealed. The lashing is by ordinary crossed diagonal turns which result in a lozenge pattern on the outer side of each peg but which are of totally different construction to the fly flap lozenge on the upper surface of the Tahitian boom.

The sail. The difference between east and west in the setting of the sail has been remarked by Linton (19, pp. 318, 450). In both areas, the matting sail was triangular. In the east, the apex of the sail was at the foot of the mast. One side was attached along the mast whilst the free side had a sprit or boom attached along its edge. In Samoa, both sides of the sail had sprits page 676termed tila attached to their edges. The apex of the sail was fixed forward of the mast. A rope was tied to about the middle of the upper tila and passed through a special support at the masthead. By means of the rope the sail was hauled up into position with its long axis oblique.