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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

Domestic Furniture

page 43

Domestic Furniture.

The domestic furnishings of a dwelling house were very limited. The bed was on the floor and sleeping mats and bark cloth coverings were all that was needed. As regards furniture, the ground provided both tables and seats, but for people of status there were two kinds of seats made, the nohoanga and the atamira.

Figure 41.Wooden seat, nohoanga.

Figure 41.
Wooden seat, nohoanga.

Wooden seat, nohoanga. The nohoanga was a curved seat supported by four short legs, all carved out of the solid. They were usually made of tamanu wood. The type made was similar throughout the Group. They have become scarce in Aitutaki. The sample shown in Fig. 41 is from Atiu where they are still made for trade purposes.

The dimensions of an average seat are shown in Fig. 42. The middle part of the curved seat is only 4 inches from the ground. The two pairs of short legs are curved outwards towards the ends of the seat and their lower ends are expanded into heart-shaped feet with the points directed inwards towards the middle transverse line of the seat.

page 44
Figure 42.Dimensions of wooden seat.

Figure 42.
Dimensions of wooden seat.

Chief's seat, atamira. The atamira form unique looking pieces of furniture. They are larger editions of the nohoanga but owing to their superior status, they are ornamented with carving along both edges of the seat. The examples shown in Figs. 43 and 44 are both in the Auckland Museum. The seat of the smaller one, Fig. 43, is 7 feet 9 inches in length whilst the other is 13 feet 1 inch. An intermediate size, seen in Aitutaki, was 9 feet 5 inches in length. The width of the seat of the smaller one is 1 foot 5½ inches and the other 1 foot 6½ inches. The curve in the smaller one is much greater for, whilst the middle part is 9 inches from the ground, the ends rise up to 1 foot 6 inches, whereas the larger seat is 1 foot from the ground in the middle and 1 foot 4 inches at the ends.

The four legs, which are cut out of the solid, are heart shaped in section and the lower ends only slightly expanded. At the lower ends the dimensions of the legs of the smaller seat are 4 inches by 3 inches, and the sharp edge of each pair is directed towards the middle transverse line of the seat. At the junction of the seat the dimensions are 8 inches by 5 inches, but the points of the sections are turned in the opposite direction.

The edges of the seat project downwards from end to end as can be seen on the left of Fig. 43. Those edges are carved and form a surface 2 inches deep at either end which gradually increases to 3 inches at the middle. In the large atamira, the surface is 2¼ inches at the ends and 3¾ inches at the middle.

The carving, which will be described in detail under Decorative Art, is much worn. In the larger seat considerable wearing exists on either side of the middle transverse page 45
Figure 43. Smaller atamira in Auckland Museum.

Figure 43.
Smaller atamira in Auckland Museum.

Figure 44. Large atamira in Auckland Museum.

Figure 44.
Large atamira in Auckland Museum.

Figure 45. Part of carved edge of large atamira.

Figure 45.
Part of carved edge of large atamira.

page 46 line. This is the natural position where the legs would be, but in a low seat, it is difficult to see how they could have been responsible for the wearing. In the smaller seat, the upper part of the carving that was in raised relief has almost entirely disappeared. The wearing is a good indication of the age of the two seats and materially enhances their value.

The atamira were the seats of the temporal heads of the tribes, ariki, and the chiefs, hui rangatira. When an ariki succeeded to office, it was part of the inducting ceremony to elevate him on an atamira and thus carry him on the shoulders of the people.

In Rarotonga, all the atamira except that of Pa Ariki have disappeared. That of Makea Ariki was said to be of the long type similar to those of Aitutaki. The surviving atamira of Pa Ariki is unique in having a solid single support and is therefore shown in Fig. 46. There is a
Figure 46. Atamira of Pa Ariki of Rarotonga.

Figure 46.
Atamira of Pa Ariki of Rarotonga.

rumour of a stone atamira of great historic antiquity being buried near one of the marae on the southern part of Rarotonga.