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Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands



First Period

One-piece pearl-shell hooks, both rounded and U-shaped, are so widespread that the form must have been known to the first settlers of the Cook Islands. The two-piece wooden Ruvettus hook and the one-piece wooden shark hook were probably introduced in this period. Some form of bonito hook must also have been known.

The general Polynesian net technique (fig. 142, a) and netting needle (fig. 141, a) were introduced and the Mangaian netting needle (fig. 141, b) was probably brought in by the conservative ancestors of the Mangaians.

The round lobster pot type of fish trap (pl. 11, B) with the opening above and the single-pair twine technique is widespread and hence early. The form of the double funnel trap (pl. 11, A) must have been known at this period because it was present in such widely separated areas as Mangareva and Samoa.

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Second Period

Pearl shell was scarce in the Cook Islands and hooks were made from Turbo shells and coconut shell. Unfortunately no old specimens have been recorded. Bonito hooks were not made, and their abandonment cannot be attributed solely to the lack of pearl shell. In New Zealand where there is no pearl shell, the Maoris made trolling hooks with wooden shanks inlaid with Haliotis shell and with bone points to catch the kahawai fish which went in shoals like the bonito. In the Cook Islands, the bonito hook was probably abandoned because the bonito was scarce in the surrounding waters.

The Aitutaki net technique (fig. 143) with reef knots is not found elsewhere in the Cook or neighboring islands and it must have developed locally. The reef knot technique was also used by the Atiuans in their netted food carriers (fig. 2; pl. 12, B, D).

Fish traps, though following an old technique as regards form, underwent local variation in the use of raw material. In most islands, the aerial roots of the kiekie were used but in Aitutaki, where kiekie did not grow, the long underground roots of the coconut palm took their place. It is also probable that the method of lashing the warps and wefts of the double funnel traps underwent local change. The shape of the Atiu eel trap (pl. 11, C, D) with a funnel opening at one end appears to be a local development though a somewhat similar shape was used in the eel traps of New Zealand.

Third Period

Metal fishhooks have completely replaced the smaller hooks of shell and bone but, curiously enough, the wooden Ruvettus hook and to some extent the wooden shark hook are still used occasionally. The hand nets and seine nets are now made with trade twine, but the Aitutakians still use their own technique. Fish traps are disappearing, though the older people still know how to make them. The most important change of this period is the many pointed metal fish spear made by blacksmiths for trade but hafted by the fishermen themselves.