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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

Comparisons with New Zealand

Comparisons with New Zealand.

On the subject of canoes, there is little to offer in the way of comparisons. The double canoes of both regions have disappeared. Best1 has pointed out that double canoes were plentiful in the South Island when Tasman arrived in 1642. They were also in use in Cook's time, and seemed to have survived longer in the South Island than in the North. In the Bay of Plenty a temporary form of double canoe was used until comparatively recently for drawing large seine nets.

As regards the single outrigger canoe, it speedily went into disuse. Best points out that it was only seen in two places by Cook and his companions whilst early missionaries and settlers do not mention it. The only material evidence of this type now extant in New Zealand consists of two remnants. The first is the narrow hull dug up in the Taieri, and now in the Dominion Museum. Best points out that the sides curve in to the upper edges, and thus resemble some Melanesian canoes. The second specimen is the outrigger float in the Canterbury Museum. This has page 274been described by H. D. Skinner.2 It is about 6 feet in length, so that the canoe to which it had been attached could not have been very large. It is also pointed at each end, which was the common practice in Aitutaki. It is interesting to note that the float must have carried three sets of holes for the boom attachments. The outrigger must therefore have had three booms, or kiato. All the small canoes of Rarotonga and Aitutaki seen by the author invariably had two booms, but in Niue3 three booms were used, as well as two. Between the pairs of holes for the connecting pegs, Skinner states that two holes were sunk that converged and met. He rightly conjectures that through each of these holes a cord must have been passed to connect the float with the boom. This form of lashing attachment has been mentioned in this chapter in describing the Rarotongan float attachment. In the Rarotongan attachment there is one peg attachment formed by the natural branch from the boom being inserted into the float in the mesial position, whilst there are two or two pairs of cord attachments which pass fore and aft from the end of the boom to holes that have been pierced through the upper surface of the float, Fig. 233. In the New Zealand float the positions are reversed, for there is a fore and aft peg attachment and a mesial cord attachment.

The Y-shaped stick attachment that is characteristic of Aitutaki has been recorded by Haddon4 in various parts of the Western Pacific. The Balinese attachment, described by both Haddon and Hornell as being a bent branch attached to the boom above and inserted into the float below, differs considerably from the Rarotongan attachment, except in first appearance. In the latter, though the branch bends down to be inserted into the float the boom itself continues out over the float. It is to this prolongation of the boom that the two cord attachments that come from the float are attached.

The vessels that brought the ancestors of the Maori to New Zealand must have been double canoes. There are traditions, however, that single-outrigger canoes were used on a particular expedition. The double canoe was the voyaging canoe of Polynesia, and the ancestors of the Maori were Polynesians, whatever they developed into afterwards. It is natural that they should have retained for some time the types of canoe of their home-land. It is also natural page 275that they should have discarded them in time. Big timber was everywhere plentiful, and, with the great improvement in woodcraft, large logs were dubbed out into canoes. They were more stable in the water than the narrow logs of Polynesia. Hence it became unnecessary to prop them up with an outrigger. The long sea voyages were also abandoned. There was no longer any need for them. Thus changed conditions as regards available material and the needs for which canoes were required led to the abandon-ment of the outrigger canoe and later of the double canoe. It is surprising that the double canoe lasted as long as it did.

It is refreshing to find that so many of the Polynesian names were retained. Thus we have takere and riu, with the same meanings of hull and hold. Oa for the topsides was also known to the Maori, though rauawa was much used. The use of the numeral rua, two, with some prefix to denote a double-canoe in both regions is also natural. The word pahi for a large sea-going canoe was retained in New Zealand. Pahi is also used for travellers or visitors, and in this application it is easy to see that it harks back to an island habitat, where the ocean-going pahi was the only transport that took travellers or brought visitors. The ama for float was also remembered, and Best has remarked that in the ama-tiatia we have the memory of the association of the ama with the tiatia, or the indirect peg attachment of the outrigger float to the boom.

The butt join of the hull was common to both but the tenon and mortise join, or haumi kokomo, seems a local development with the Maori. The carvel-built canoe is common to both, but no inside and outside battens to cover the join were used with the small canoes seen. The method of running the cord through the holes of the hull and the topsides, twice vertically on the outside and once vertically on the inside, and then diagonally to the next pair of holes, is common in both areas. The use of the forked implement to tighten the lashing as it is being applied is also common. The manner of use given by Best1 is different to that shown in Fig. 227. The method shown there is common in Polynesia, and is in active use.

After the Maori made the great local development in carving, it is natural that artists looked for suitable objects upon which they could display their art. The figure-heads page 276and stern-pieces of war canoes supplied an appropriate field. It is easy to see how the double spiral motive was added in later times to the less elaborate treatment that formerly prevailed, and which is now seen on the second class canoes. The carved head with a protruding tongue was left connected by a mesial vertical board cut out of the solid with the transverse cross piece at the back, to provide a field upon which the double spiral could be displayed. Similarly, the stern-piece was widened and made higher, to provide a worthy setting for the same motive. The curved ribs so typical of these carved stern-pieces not only impart strength to the pierced work of the plank, but represent the original smaller and less ornamented stern-piece.