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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

Comparison with New Zealand.1

Comparison with New Zealand.1

Furniture. There were no wooden nohoanga made in New Zealand, but the spot upon the floor or ground that a person sat upon was called nohoanga, sitting place. The atamira was a stage or platform which on occasion might be occupied by persons of high rank but it was more usually associated with a low stage upon which the dead were laid out in state.

Utensils. The ipu, taha and kumete are also utensils used by the Maori but some confusion exists and there is not the clean cut distinction that is maintained in the islands. There was no native material that provided a natural cup or ipu like the cocoanut shell, neither was there any necessity for its use. The Maori drank water directly from the stream or calabash container, whilst chiefs, to prevent their prohibitive tapu from spreading to any receptacle they might touch with their lips, drank from their cupped hands into which an attendant poured the water. There was no kava drinking or any relish of the nature of tai hakari that needed a small cup-like receptacle. The cupped shell of the Haliotis, paua, was certainly used, but as a receptacle for fat and pigments used for decorative purposes. The absence of the cocoanut water-bottle confined the use of the water-container name of taha to the calabash. But ipu in New Zealand also means a calabash with a small opening, and in the proper name Te Ipu-wai, we have it as a calabash containing water. Thus ipu and taha have come to represent the same thing. Further changes in the use of the terms have occurred through the local need for receptacles to contain the flesh of birds, cooked and preserved in their own fat. This esteemed delicacy was called huahua. Huahua were kept in special vessels made of totara bark which were named patua. But large calabashes were also used. The stalk end was cut off to provide a hole large enough to admit the cooked birds. The hole was surmounted by a carved wooden mouthpiece, tuki, and the calabash encased in a plaited basket, fitted with tripod legs and decorated with feathers. The calabash as a plant is hue, whilst the mature fruit used as a vessel is taha. Thus the taha containing huahua was called a taha huahua but it was also called an ipu.

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Wooden bowls of various sizes were used as food containers and called kumete. The very large ones were oval in shape and deep like the paroe. Others are round. Either may have a grooved spout. The oval ones may have a knobbed projection at both ends to serve as handles. There is a carved beaker-shaped kumete in the Auckland Museum but this form is not common. Some are carved very elaborately with human figures forming supporting feet. They may be round, oval, or rectangular and are fitted with elaborately carved lids. The carved kumete with lids are used to contain huahua when served before chiefs. These again are also called ipu. Thus ipu having evidently lost its original island material came to be included under both taha and kumete.

An open carved wooden vessel resembling in shape a calabash cut longitudinally through the stalk, was used in the Hot Lakes district for serving whitebait and was called oko. A vessel of similar shape to the actual calabash was also used and received the name of oko or ipu.

Wooden receptacles for containing feathers, trinkets and scented herbs had their special names and were never confounded with ipu or kumete.

Wooden Pounders. The Maori wooden pounder has a knobbed handle like the Aitutaki penu but the other end instead of being flat is rounded. Herein lies the difference, for the Island pounder has a straight up and down action like a pestle or masher, whereas the Maori pounder was used for beating fern root on a flat stone with the striking action of a hammer. It was called patu aruhe or paoi. The less plentiful cultivated root crops of New Zealand were usually eaten without mashing and hence there was no such need for pounders of the Polynesian type. A certain amount of mashing probably did take place for children, as the word penu retains the meaning of mashed food in Maori. Thus after the introduction of the potato, potato mashers immediately received the name of penu.

Fire. The Maori method of fire-making was exactly the same, and was also known as hika ahi. Even the fire sticks bore the same names as those of Aitutaki, the upper being the kau rima and the lower, the kau ati.

Earth Oven. The Maori ovens, umu or hangi, were made deeper and water was sprinkled over the hot stones and food to create steam, whereas the Cook Islanders did page 75not use water. Thus the Maori food was steam cooked whilst the other was more in the nature of cooking with dry heat. The Maori method cooked more quickly. The Maori made plaited or braided bands of flax to run round the circumference of the oven. Plaited flax mats, tapora,2 took the place of the rau tao cover of leaves. The New Zealand plants close to the villages did not have the large leaves of the wild hibiscus, or the bread fruit, and hence the Maori was forced to seek a substitute.

Balance Pole. The balance pole is not present in New Zealand. The more general name of amo, however, is well known and was applied to carrying on the shoulder and to litters or poles used for transporting the wounded, the dead or any heavy burdens on the shoulders of two men. Carrying bands of plaited flax, kawe, took the place of the balance pole. The author2 has pointed out that the change was probably due to the steeper nature of the village sites on hills, which were rendered still steeper by the system of fortification in vogue. The front end of the balance pole would have had to be tilted up to a great degree whilst climbing up into the villages and between the terraces. Too high an angle of elevation naturally disturbed the balance of the load and the pole was rendered useless. With the load supported on the back by means of the carrying bands, the bearer could lean well forward against the load in the upward climb.

Ropes. Ropes are called taura in New Zealand and whiri means to plait or twist a rope. Kaha, as cordage, is associated with the upper and lower ropes of seine nets and the lashings of the top-sides of a canoe. Rahiri was also a type of rope. The twisting of two-ply cords upon the bare thigh was known as miro. The incident of Maui snaring the sun with a rope is common to New Zealand as elsewhere.

As regards material, the fibre of the Phormium tenax took the place of bark in all forms of rope. Rough ropes, however, were made of the unscraped leaf, and for certain purposes the leaves of the Cordyline australis and the Cordyline banksii were used.

1 Best, Elsdon, 1924. I.

2 Te Rangi Hiroa, 1923. I.