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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)



The typical shape of the Aitutaki fans is shown in Fig. 183. They are triangular shape, with the apex on the handle. In the Cook Group this form of fan is always associated with Aitutaki. There are two varieties figured.

(1) Rough Fans of Cocoanut Leaf.

Three examples of this variety are shown in the lower part of Fig. 183. A piece of cocoanut leaf is cut off from towards the tip end. The length of the leaf must be long enough to form both handle and fan. The butt page 203
Figure 183. Fans typical of Aitutaki.

Figure 183.
Fans typical of Aitutaki.

end is stripped of leaflets to form a natural handle, and at the other end from seven to ten leaflets are left on either side. The broad under surface of the midrib is turned upwards, and the leaflets from either side crossed alternately, as in commencing a check plait, Fig. 184A. The leaflets are not opened out, but are kept doubled, with the leaflet midrib forming the anterior edge.

The lowest leaflet, 1, on the left side is turned upwards to lie close to and parallel with the leaf midrib, Fig. 184A. As it is turned upwards, it is twisted with a half turn to expose the other surface and place the leaflet midrib on the outer edge. It passes above the next leaflet, 2, under 3, and so alternately in a check plait. The next leaflet, 2, is then turned upwards with a half turn to be parallel with the first. It passes above the next leaflet, 3, and continues the check technique. So each leaflet is turned upwards in succession to continue the check technique, until, of the seven leaflets in Fig. 184, six have crossed the marginal leaflet, 7. The last two, 6 and 7, form the corner.

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Figure 184.Technique of Cocoanut Leaf Fan.

Figure 184.
Technique of Cocoanut Leaf Fan.

The leaflets on the right side of the leaf midrib are dealt with in an exactly similar manner until the right corner is formed by 6 and 7, Fig. 184B.

The part between the left and right corners is filled in by drawing the leaflets from the opposite sides across to provide crossing elements. Thus the two innermost leaflets, 1, from either side cross at the point X, directly above the end of the leaf midrib, Fig. 184B. The leaflet, 1, from the left, comes to lie parallel with the right leaflet, 7, and continues the check plait on its journey. The others follow, but the check plait is not continued beyond the level of the corner made by the crossing of the leaflets 6 and 7. This line is indicated by the arrows in Fig. 184B, and will form the upper edge of the fan. The left side of the base of the fan is filled in in the same manner.

The upper edge is formed by treating the seven leaflets from either side, which now form a continuous line of crossing elements, in pairs. The leaflets of each pair are doubled back over each other. They are passed back along their previous course and passed under one or more crossing elements to fix them. Thus the first pair on the corner in Fig. 184B is 6 and 7. The leaflet 7, being below 6, is doubled over 6, brought back along its own course, and pushed under the first crossing element, which is the leaflet 4. The leaflet 6 is doubled forward over the part of 7 which crossed above it. As it is near the corner, it has to be given a half turn, brought back along its course, and pushed under the first crossing weft 5. It may be further secured by continuing on to pass under the crossing weft 3.

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The next pair is 1 and 5. As 1 is the under leaflet, it is doubled over 5 at their crossing point, brought back along its course, and pushed under the crossing weft 3. The leaflet 5 is then doubled over the turned back part of 1, retains its course, and is pushed under the crossing weft, 7. The leaflets 2 and 4 are dealt with similarly, and then 3 and 3. This brings us to the middle line. The left half is dealt with similarly.

The free ends of the doubled back leaflets are cut off close to the lower edge of the last crossing weft. The base of the fan thus formed by doubling back the leaflets in pairs forms a serrated edge, or patara, Fig. 183. This technique was used for effect.

In Fig. 183 the left of the three cocoanut leaf fans shows the upper surface of the cocoanut leaf midrib, which is uncovered. The two on the right show the crossings of the leaflets over the under surface of the leaf midrib.

(2) Finer Fans of Dressed Leaf.

The two white fans in the upper part of Fig. 183 show the better type of fan made from prepared leaf. A wooden handle takes the place of the leaf midrib. The dressed leaf elements, which take the place of the natural leaflets, are tied to the handle and interlaced with a check technique round it.

The general technique of commencing from the lower end, using the check stroke and shaping, is the same as in the rough fans. The exact details of construction were not seen by the author. The work is much finer, however, and ornamentation is introduced by using coloured elements with overlaid plaiting.