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Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands



Importation applies to the introduction of material objects from without which are not incorporated in the native culture. Early European voyagers bartered hoop iron, nails, hatchets, and other foreign goods for pigs, fowls, fruits, and vegetables. Though some of the foreign goods were adjusted to native use, it may be said of imported goods that they were used as long as they lasted, but objects made of iron and glass and linen or cotton thread could not be reproduced by native technique. The natwes were quick to realize the superiority of iron over stone, and hoop iron and nails formed a lucrative means of exchange for the early explorers. In New Zealand, a large tract of land was sold for pieces of hoop iron, and later generations often refer somewhat sadly to what they have termed te hoko paraharaha (the hoop iron sale).

Importations increased with the coming of the missionaries, for they brought extra supplies of goods for gifts and for exchange. The influence of the missionaries affected the native material culture, particularly clothing. The wives of the missionaries taught the women to sew and to make garments to cover their bodies from neck to heel. The supply of trousers and shirts was not sufficient to meet the demand, so the men had to be content with pieces of cloth which were used as kilts. There was one item in the missionary dress, however, that the natives were able to copy from local material and this was the hat with a projecting brim. Great ingenuity was displayed in making native hats out of pandanus leaf and the leaf midribs of the birds'-nest fern (Asplenium nidus), and hat making became a new industry for women. The missionaries also imported the tie beam and king post type of architecture for the support of the ridges of churches, schools, and their own dwellings. Though it never supplanted the direct ridge post in native dwellings, it was used by native carpenters in building some communal houses.

Native pastors from the Society Islands brought some of their household equipment with them. Among these were stone food pounders made in Tahiti and Maupiti (fig. 259) and some of them came into the possession of the local people through gifts or exchange. They were used by their owners but were never adopted as a pattern by local craftsmen.


Adaptation in material culture means the modification of an object to a new use. This usually entails a change of form or of structure. Though the page 493Polynesians could not reproduce the importations of the metal age, they did adapt some of the objects to native uses. Thus, in the Cook Islands as well as other parts of Polynesia, pieces of flat iron cut from hoops made to keep the staves of barrels together were used for adz heads. Rectangular pieces of the iron with one end sharpened to an edge were substituted for stone adz heads, but the short handles and sennit lashings retained the native pattern. Later, when carpenters' planes became available, plane blades already sharpened were preferred to hoop iron, and they are still used in Samoa. In Samoa, chisel blades are lashed to an adz handle for use as narrow bladed adzes. Pieces of hoop iron or flat iron were notched on a front convex edge and used in place of notched pieces of coconut shell in coconut graters. Spike nails were heated in the fire and the points beaten to a flat edge for use as chisels in carving wood. In Hawaii, spike nails were fashioned into daggers. Smaller nails were bent to form fishhooks of the Polynesian shape.

Trade hatchets made for cutting wood were adapted by the Maoris into fighting weapons of two types. In one type, a short bone handle with a carved butt and a wrist thong attached through a hole in the butt was substituted for the original wooden haft, and the weapon was used for infighting. In the other type, a long wooden handle with a pointed butt was substituted for the original short handle and used as an addition to the native types of weapon with a long striking blade and a stabbing butt point. These long-handled hatchets (toki kakau roa) were also carved on the shaft at the junction of the middle and lower thirds with a human head of the same pattern as that on the native weapons. In some islands, the hatchet handle was removed and the hatchet head lashed transversely to a short native handle for use as an adz. The lashing turns of sennit passed through the hole originally occupied by the wooden haft.

Loom woven cloth originally intended for dresses of European pattern was used for kilts or skirts by wrapping the upper edge around the waist and tucking the ends over the overlapping folds just as the tapa kilts (pareu) were worn. As concealment of the upper body was not considered necessary, two yards of cloth provided a complete dress or suit of clothes. It is probable that the circular neck opening and side fringes of the later types of poncho were due to the acquisition of scissors.

Some proud possessors of sewingmachines have signalized their advance in a foreign technique by running the double lower edge of a plaited pandanus basket through the machine and closing the bottom with a continuous cotton stitch instead of using the orthodox native technique of closing with a three-ply braid.


With the increase of foreign trade through the establishment of trading stations throughout the Cook Islands, the supply of foreign goods increased to page 494meet the demands of the entire population. The desire for trade goods stimulated the native production of copra, vegetables, and fruit, for sale. European traders and planters, attracted by the island trade, leased lands for coconut plantations to produce more copra. Citrous fruits, which had been introduced by the missionaries, were grown on a larger scale by planters and natives for trade with New Zealand. Bananas and, later on in the island of Rarotonga, tomatoes were grown in quantity for the market. The coffee plant was introduced, and, though the market did not prove encouraging, the plants became established throughout the islands and coffee beans became available for local use. The traders and planters employed native labor and currency in money superseded the old system of barter and exchange. Thus, the process of cultural change was accelerated by the invasion of foreign goods and the increased capacity of the natives to buy them.

Steel tools completely replaced the old tools made of stone, iron spear heads with many barbed prongs succeeded the single-pointed wooden fish spears, and trade fishhooks with barbs displaced the early adaptations made from nails.

Native weapons ceased to be made when the people accepted Christianity and the old specimens were given away or sold. Some were subsequently made for show in pageants at festivals, but, lacking old models, they were poor reproductions except those of Atiu. Churches were built in every village and the material symbols of the old gods were destroyed, except a few which were saved by the missionaries to illustrate the change of faith. The open temples were desecrated and the stones from these once sacred structures were used to support the sides of taro irrigation patches and to make walled enclosures for pigs.

The missionaries introduced the process of burning coral to make lime with which to plaster the walls of churches, schools, and their own dwelling houses. The method was adopted to a certain extent in making houses for chiefs, but later, houses of sawn timber were preferred. With the increase of white settlers, more sawn timber and corrugated roofing iron were imported from New Zealand and the native thatched houses were rapidly displaced. Iron cooking vessels, table utensils, crockery, and modern furniture have gradually found their way into the homes of the wealthier people.

Clothing followed more and more the European patterns as dress textiles and men's suits became cheaper and more plentiful. Every household has a sewing machine, and practically every household has wooden blocks upon which to shape straw hats. The manufacture of tapa to wear at festivals gradually ceased, and the craft has practically died out. Though many people go barefooted about their work, changing social values demand that people wear shoes at least to church. Native ornaments have been completely replaced by trade jewelry.

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The native games of disc throwing, disc pitching, and dart throwing are almost extinct, because their place has been usurped by the popular English games of cricket, football, and, to a lesser extent, tennis. Cups for interisland championships create keen competition and interisland matches in Rugby football take place when transport can be arranged. When the interisland monthly steamer service is used, the visiting teams are the guests of the home island until the next arrival of the steamer. A native touch is given to a foreign institution by the native pastor conducting a short service on the field before the match during which each of the opposing teams sings a hymn of its own selection. In mtervillage matches, a further native character is given by the home village providing a midday meal not only for the visiting team but also for the supporters who accompany it. Cooked fish, crayfish, fowls, sometimes pork, vegetables, and pounded taro puddings are brought to the playing ground in coconut-leaf baskets by the local families and after the religious service, the pile of food is formally given to the visitors in a speech of welcome by the village speaker. After acknowledgment by a visiting speaker, the visitors divide the food among themselves. Thus, though the native games have died out, their social setting has persisted.

The greatest inroad on the food complex is probably the introduction of flour and the subsequent appetite for hard biscuits (crackers) and white bread. Native bakers have entered business and the baker's cart makes regular rounds through the villages with a shell trumpet announcing its passage. The shell trumpet which formerly called warriors to battle and the faithful to temple ritual now summons the peaceful inhabitants to buy their daily bread. Of other European foods, the most popular are canned beef and canned salmon, probably because it is no trouble to prepare them for the table. Coffee has been added to the old time beverages of plain water and coconut fluid. Kava is but rarely prepared and then more as an item of interest from the past than as a practical beverage of today. The coffee beans do not cost anything and as coconut cream goes well with coffee, the only expense is sugar. The people patronize coffee rooms connected with the local bakeries and, for a small sum, obtain a mug of sweetened coffee and a hot roll with New Zealand butter. Though imported liquors are prohibited to the natives, the European taste for alcohol has been acquired, as well as the European proclivity for evading the law. They secretly brew beer from oranges and bananas.

Invasion reached a peak after the islands were ceded to Great Britain and came under the administration of New Zealand. Government officials were appointed to the islands, and various government departments were established. An agricultural expert advises the natives in methods of improving production of fruit and grading it for market. Trade is regulated. A government system of public education has introduced a number of white school teachers from New Zealand. Officials, teachers, traders, and planters have added to the page 496population of the group and increased both the demand for and the supply of trade goods. The natives have more to see and more to copy, and new generations grow up under changed conditions. The cultural invasion is firmly established, for the native population cannot give up the material comforts of today for any mental satisfaction connected with a sentimental past.