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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

Kete Rau

Kete Rau.

Satchels made with strips of rau hara are the latest development in baskets, and from the material receive the name of kete rau. They are probably of post-European origin. Whilst women use them nowadays to carry small things, much as European women carry bags, it is difficult to conceive any similar purpose in olden days. For utility
Figure 172. Baskets made of pandanus leaf, Kete rau.

Figure 172.
Baskets made of pandanus leaf, Kete rau.

page 191as regards carrying food and useful objects the baskets made of cocoanut leaf (kete nikau) were more easily made and much more serviceable.

The material naturally suggested mats, and the technique in almost every particular is that of floor mats. See Fig. 172.

Commencement. The material is treated in the same way as for floor mats, the leaf strips being split into appropriate widths and the butt ends left unsplit. The commencement of the plaiting is by the hatu rua method, with crossed strips, Fig. 95. The hatu rua is continued for twice the proposed length of the basket. The two ends are not turned in by the piu process, as in making a koviri mat, but the projecting sinistrals on the left and the dextrals on the right are left free.

The Body. The body is plaited in successive widths, with a check stroke as in the case of mats. In the ordinary type the check is adhered to throughout.

The basket shown in Fig. 172F has the bottom narrower than the rim. This is brought about by bringing two wefts together, as shown in Fig. 173. To make the
Figure 173. Narrowing the basket.

Figure 173.
Narrowing the basket.

narrowing even from both sides, two sinistrals and two dextrals are dealt with at the same part of the plaiting. Each crossing thus diminishes the width of the basket by the width of two wefts.
In the plain satchel, Fig. 172D, we see the beginning of decoration in the changing of the stroke technique. About midway up the basket, the check technique is changed to a horizontal row of twilled twos. Above this there are three rows of check, when a change in stroke again occurs. This can be readily followed in Fig. 174. If the sinistral a is followed upwards as if it formed the working edge, it will page 192
Figure 174. Prototype o f punarua motive.

Figure 174.
Prototype o f punarua motive.

be seen that after it emerges from under the last row of checks, C, two dextrals are left down, two raised, and two left down. The sinistral a is placed in position. Further up it is merely a continuation of the check technique. The next sinistral, b, after emerging from the last check of the row C, has the next dextral to it left down, as well as the two already down for A, thus making three dextrals down. The same two dextrals are kept raised, and the upper of the next two that are down is raised. These two movements are repeated right across the plaiting, and the result is that each of the pair of dextrals that was raised has crossed two sinistrals are being crossed in turn by sinistrals. The effect is a row of squares, indicated by P in Fig. 174. They are titled on one corner, owing to the diagonal lean of the weft elements. This gives a pleasing effect and breaks the monotony of the check surface. There are various changes of stroke in plain material. Such plain combinations formed the basis of the technique of the coloured bands of floor mats. If, in the example just described, the sinistrals were overlaid with coloured strips, we would get a series of white squares bounded by coloured triangles. Compare this with Fig. 118 and we see that this is the punarua motive, which is one of the four original motives in coloured mat bands. These plain combinations of strokes are sometimes seen on the body of floor mats, which must have formed the first experimenting ground.

The technique of floor mats is further followed by introducing horizontal coloured bands, as shown in Fig. 172, where various motives, already described, have been introduced into the designs.

Fig. 172A shows a basket where diagonal bands of colour are introduced without changing the check stroke. page 193To get the crossing effect, the bands passing upwards to the right have the coloured elements laid on dextral wefts, which is a departure from the orthodox technique of floor mats.

Closing the ends. The body of the satchel having been plaited to the required depth, the two ends are brought together. The free ends of the dextrals from one end, and the sinistrals from the other, now cross, as in the tapora basket, Fig. 161. These elements are simply plaited together and the gap closed (kapiti) as in Fig. 162. Here, however, the technique is more complicated, as the change in the strokes of the coloured bands has to be continued across the gap. The plaiting forms a cuff, open at both ends, when completed.

Closing the Bottom. The basket is now turned inside out, in order that the closing finish, with the cut off weft ends, may be concealed inside the basket when it is finished. There are two native methods, with an adopted third.

(1.)Three-ply braid, hiri.

The plaiting is flattened out and, commencing at one end, the wefts from either side are treated in exactly the same manner as in the bottom of the kete nikau, already described. This makes a neat braid along the bottom, Fig. 175, A and B. On the completion of the braid, the weft ends that still project are plaited on into a free braid and the end tied with an overhand knot. The only difference to the kete nikau is that it is on the inside of the basket, instead of the outside.

This finish is true basket technique, and is probably the oldest form. In a variety of the kete rau a neatly made specimen with, coloured designs on the sides had the three-ply braid plaited without turning the basket inside out, Figs. 172F and 175A. As the upper edge of this basket showed a more primitive finish than the others, and also showed that the plaiting had commenced at the rim, it is probable that the older technique commenced at what was to be the rim, continued downwards with the outer surfaces of the wefts uppermost, and then finished directly, with the three-ply braid on the outside. It thus followed closely its precursor, the kete nikau. The turning of the basket inside out to conceal the bottom braid must have been a page 194later development. This later detail was also probably influenced by the fact that the basket had to be turned inside out for the later technique of the rim. Fig. 175B shows the orthodox type turned inside out, with the braid end on the right.

(2.)Plaited or taviri finish.

This process was directly taken from the technique of floor mats. The two sides are flattened out and the dextrals and sinistrals from either side made to coincide with those running in the same direction. Treating two coinciding elements as single wefts, the check technique is continued upwards on the left end for about four strokes, to produce a diagonal working edge. The sinistrals on the left are turned back to the right to engage as dextrals, until the working edge is secured.

From now on the technique is merely a repetition of the taviri finish of floor mats, Fig. 102. Thus the wefts from either side are plaited together and fixed. The bottom is effectively closed and, on the right, the few wefts that cannot be fixed by crossing wefts are plaited into a three-ply braid, which is finished with an overhand knot, Fig. 175C.

(3.)Sewing with cotton.

The last method is due to the influence of a higher civilisation. The two sides are flattened out and the plaited part sewn with a sewing machine, Fig. 175D. In some cases a piece of calico is doubled over the trimmed edge as a binding, and the whole fixed with the sewing machine. The baskets thus treated are perfect in every other way. The craftswoman cannot be altogether blamed by Europeans, who have set the example of abandoning their own handicrafts in favour of machinery.

Fig. 175 shows a useful series of the methods described, and enables the reader to see the process of evolution at a glance.

Upper edge or rim. From the information obtained, there were three methods of dealing with the upper rim of the basket.

(1.)Three-ply braid.
Unfortunately this method was not described to the author, but it was subsequently noticed in the basket page 195
A. Three-ply braid on outside. B. Three-ply braid on inside. C. Taviri finish derived from the floor mats (inside). D. Sewing machine finish derived froom Euro-American culture (inside).

Figure 175.
Method of closing the bottom of pandanus leaf baskets, kete rau.

page 196 already referred to as having the three-ply braid finish of the bottom on the outside, Fig. 172F. The plaiting commenced at the rim edge because the somewhat wide wefts that occur here are shortly after split to half the width. After the hatu rua commencement, the butt ends of the strip have been run out into wefts. These have been plaited with a three-ply braid to form the rim, Fig. 176. The wefts, after a certain course in the
Figure 176. Braid finish of basket rim. Fig. 172F.

Figure 176.
Braid finish of basket rim. Fig. 172F.

braid, are dropped on the inner side and subsequently cut off. When the braiding comes round to where it commenced, the end wefts are plaited on as free braid, pushed under one or two crossing wefts on the inside surface, and knotted as shown on the right in Fig. 176. This method in certainly more primitive in technique, and is probably the oldest form.
(2.)Level edge with taviri finish.

The basket is turned inside out and an even edge made with the taviri finish of floor mats.

(3.)Serrated edge, patara.

The basket must be turned inside out. A set of points (tara), or triangles, with their base on the completed edge of the plaiting, form the finish of the rim. The triangles may be increased in size by using more wefts. In the plain basket with wide wefts there is only one weft on each side, Fig. 172D. In the others there are two four, or more.

Taking four as an example, four dextrals, a-c, and four sinistrals, 1-4, are selected at the plaiting edge and the check plait continued as far as it will go. Fig. 177A. The triangle is defined by the marginal wefts. 4 and a. and the apex is where they cross at c.

page 197

The plaiting must commence at the apex c. Which-ever of the wefts forming the apex, 4 and a, is below must be turned back over the other. The principle now is to plait back with a check stroke, treating the numbered wefts on the left as dextrals to be separated into alternate sets and the lettered wefts on the right as sinistrals, to be placed in the shed prepared. As the weft 4 has to be left as it is weft 2, which is its alternate, must be left down also. As a result of this, the other two alternates, 3 and 1, must be bent back. When this is done, the weft a is placed in position, Fig. 177B.

Figure 177.Serrated edge techninque, patara.

Figure 177.
Serrated edge techninque, patara.

The wefts 4 and 2 are now bent back over a, and left down. The check demands that the alternates, 3 and 1, be raised. This is done and the next sinistral, b, placed in position, Fig 177C.

Now, as 3 and 1 were dropped over the weft b in the last movement, the other two, 4 and 2, are automatically picked up. The next sinistral, c, is doubled back into position and lies above 3 and 1 and below 4 and 2, Fig. 177D.

Again, as 4 and 2 were laid over weft C the other set, 3 and 1, were picked up. The fourth sinistral, D, is bent back into position, and 3 and 1 brought down across it, Fig. 177E.

This finishes the tara, or triangle, and it is very simple once the starting arrangement is known. From this triangle, the next two sets of four on the right are treated in a similar manner. This procedure is continued right round the rim of the basket.

page 198

Plaited band. All the wefts having been turned back along the bases of the triangles, the check plaiting is continued for a depth of an inch or more. The plaiting of this band is done, of course, with the points of the triangles towards the plaiter. This effectively fixes the triangles of the edge and prevents them coming unravelled.

Fixing edge of plaited band. The edge of the fixing band of plaiting is itself fixed with the taviri finish of floor mats, but there are three varieties of it:—

(1.)Single weft fixation:—

The principle of the taviri, as we have seen, is to turn a sinistral and a dextral back from the left end of the completed edge, down the course of the sinistral that is being plaited, and to fix them with the check stroke that is plaited over the sinistral, as in Fig. 102. In this figure there was a working edge of six wefts, but in the single weft fixation of the basket rim there is a working edge of two wefts only, Fig. 178.

Figure 178. One weft taviri finish of rim.

Figure 178.
One weft taviri finish of rim.

A shows the position on the left end of the plaited band on commencing the taviri. The end sinistral is marked 1, and the end dextral, a. The sinislrals, 2 and 3, and the others not shown are turned down out of the way. The object now is to turn the sinistral, 1 and the dextral, a, down along the course of the next sinistral, 2, and to fix them with the next dextral, b. The dextral, b, has been turned back or lifted, as both a and c are down, and the check stroke must be maintained. There are five movements shown in Fig. 178, as follows:—

page 199
B.The sinistral 1 is twisted over to expose the other surface and laid along the dextral a.
C.The next sinistral, 2, is straightened up into its normal course, and passes over c and the combined wefts. 1 and a.
D.The combined weft 1 and a is twisted over with a half turn and laid down the course of the sinistral 2.
E.The turned back dextral b is straightened out over its course, and fixes the turned down sinistral 1 and dextral a, as was required.
F.Automatically, as b was straightened out, the next dextral, c, was picked up and turned back to prepare the shed for the next sinistral.

As one pair is fixed, the way is prepared for the next pair. Thus the position at E is identical with A. The left sinistral, 2, takes a half turn along the left dextral, b. The next sinistral, 3, is straightened out, and the pair, 2 and b, makes a half-turn to lie along its course. Then the turned back dextral, c, is straightened out to fix the pair, whilst complying with the check technique. Thus the process goes on, and the appearance after cutting off the weft ends, is shown roughly in G.

A slight variation of the above consists in using a working edge of three dextrals. The wefts that are turned down are thus crossed by two dextrals, whilst one lies beneath, Fig. 179A.

(2.)Taviri finish with double fixation:—
  • This variation is shown in Fig. 179B, and the principle of technique in Fig. 180.
  • In Fig. 180A the uppermost dextral weft, a, is composite, and consists of three elements, The sinistral 1 has been placed in position with the dextral b turned back.
  • In B. the composite weft, a, has been turned down along the course of the sinistral 1 in the same manner as in the usual technique shown in Fig. 178.
  • In C, the most superficial element of the three forming weft a is twisted with a half turn to direct it at right angles along the course of the dextral immediately below the working pair, b and c. This dextral lies above the sinistral 1.
page 200
Figure 179. Finish of plaited bands at rim of pandanus baskets, kete rau.

Figure 179.
Finish of plaited bands at rim of pandanus baskets, kete rau.

page 201
Figure 180. Technique of taviri finish with double fixation.

Figure 180.
Technique of taviri finish with double fixation.

In D, the dextral b is brought across the sinistral 1 in the usual check stroke, and the sinistral 1 is then bent across to join b. At the same time, the dextral c is brought back to comply with check technique, and the new sinistral 2 is placed in position. Thus the turned down weft a has been fixed by the crossing of b and one of the elements, doubly fixed by the crossing of the sinistral 2. The other two elements of a are subsequently cut off. The third element will subsequently re-enter as a composite weft and become one of the two elements to be discarded and cut off.

Figure 181. Taviri finish with sinistrals not turned back.

Figure 181.
Taviri finish with sinistrals not turned back.

(3.)Taviri finish with sinistrals not turned back.

The appearance of this method before the weft ends are cut off is shown in Fig. 181, where the incompleted basket is shown in the position of manufacture. Thus on the left the upper row of weft ends are the discarded sinistrals, and the lower row the turned page 202down dextrals. A similar condition exists on the right, whilst in the middle part the plaiting of the band has yet to be done.

Figure 182. Technique of taviri finish with sinistrals not turned back.

Figure 182.
Technique of taviri finish with sinistrals not turned back.

The technique is shown in Fig. 182. The sinistral wefts, as they reach the edge of the plaiting, are discarded, as shown by S, where those on the left have been cut off. A working edge of six dextrals is used. After the sinistral has been placed in position between the two series of dextrals, the top dextral makes a half turn and passes down upon it as D1 on S1. The check movement is then made and the dextral locked in position. They are subsequently cut off below the last crossing weft as on the left of Fig. 182. The general appearance of this finish is shown in Fig. 179C.

The handles. The basket handles are made of pandanus strips plaited into round cords with the four-strand taura puna plait, shown in Fig. 68. They are pushed through the plaited band near the rim and knotted. A common method of fixation in these days is by sewing the ends of the cords to the sides of the basket with European needle and thread.