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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The Designs on Baskets and Mats are Poor

The Designs on Baskets and Mats are Poor

(12) Had the beginnings of this art of pottery flourished in New Zealand, instead of dying out, we might have had a development of designing in basketry and mat-making equal to that in tattooing and wood-carving, for pottery arises from basketry through smearing the baskets with clay for cooking, and then, in its greater freedom of ornament, it reacts upon the designs of baskets and mats. Compared with the designs of the American Indian textiles, those of the Polynesians are poor, both in quality and in variety; for they make no use of the spiral or scroll work that is so conspicuous in the tattooing and carving of the Maori. They use nothing but angular and linear patterns on their mats, their fans, their baskets, and their tapa. In fact, all the dyed designs of their tapa are manifestly taken from textiles, and those stiff checkers and lines and combinations of straight, horizontal and vertical lines that predominate in the islands were evidently taken with the six canoes to New Zealand. The feather-mat work was as clearly Polynesian in origin, for it never admits anything but the straight-line geometrical patterns, though it allows of a greater variety of colour than the textile brown, white and black, because of the greater variety in bird-colouring. The furthest the taniko, or border-pattern, goes, in the way of freedom, is the combination of two squares or two or more triangles page 200laid angle to angle. Two other facts seem to indicate that this designing in mats and ketes and the borders of mats was not derived from the pre-Polynesians; it was the one department of weaving in which men took part, and the making of the red or brown dye at least was sacred. The lattice-work panelling of the carved houses has not much more freedom of design. Occasionally there is a departure from the straight-line patterns, and a monstrous human figure is brought out; but it is stiff in its outlines.