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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

Toys Made From Cocoanut Leaves

Toys Made From Cocoanut Leaves.

(1.) Jew's harp, pokăkăkăkă. The pokakaka was a primitive kind of Jew's harp, and corresponds to the Maori roria. A strip of cocoanut leaflet, about an inch wide, was bent in an arch in front of the teeth, with the ends held in by the cheeks. The tip of the tongue may push the strip forward to increase the tension. A piece of the midrib of a leaflet is held transversely with the left hand across the mouth strip, whilst the right forefinger causes it to vibrate.

page 319
A song, amu, is often sung with it, and generally bears on some local topic. Thus, when one of the old schools was being built at Arutangi, a number of widows carried the white coral gravel from Amuri to beautify the paths. Hence the amu of the day was as follows:—

"Kohikohi kirikiri,
Kohikohi kirikiri,
Na te vahine takahua e,
Na te vahine takahua e."

"Gathering gravel,
Gathering gravel,
By the widowed women, Ah!
By the widowed women, Ah!"

There is nothing outstanding in the composition, but the words suited the instrument. This, after all, is the key to the simplest songs and chants used with Polynesian games. The rough English translations can convey no idea of the rhythm and suitability of the original text.

(2.) Leaflet hoop, potaka. A circle or hoop was made of a strip of leaflet about half an inch wide.

(a) A very simple form was made by overlapping the ends of the strip after forming a circle, and merely pinning them together with a short piece of leaflet midrib.

(b) A more elaborate join was formed by making a transverse collar. A short piece of leaflet of the same width as the hoop part, and three times as long as its width, was placed transversely beneath one end of the hoop strip, and one width from its end, Fig. 278A. One side of the short
Figure 278. Technique of leaf hoop, potaka.

Figure 278.
Technique of leaf hoop, potaka.

page 320 piece, a, is folded across as in B. Then the opposite side, b, is folded across, as in C. The end of the long strip, c, is folded back over the transverse band, as in D. The band is now fixed by bending the long strip, e, over c, and passing the free end through the loop made by the short strip, d, on the under side of the long strip, as in E. This is drawn taut and the short ends of a, b, and c are fixed, F. The free end of the long strip is brought round in a circle and the end passed through the collar which holds it in position, as in G.

This toy is said to have been introduced into Aitutaki by the ancestor Ruatapu. After his quarrel with his son, Kirikava, he moved down towards what is now Amuri. Seeing bearers carrying food to the Ariki Taruia, he determined to attract the attention of that high chief. He therefore made a potaka of cocoanut leaflet, which the wind blew along the beach towards Taruia's settlement. The toy was duly picked up and conveyed to the chief. Taruia expressed surprise at this new thing, or pakau. As the cocoanut tree was introduced by Ruatapu and grown at the other end of the island, the surprise of Taruia was probably due not only to the form of the toy, but also to the material from which it was made. The toy, though seemingly insignificant, is of importance in the historical narrative of Aitutaki. The making of such toys should be perpetuated amongst the school children of Aitutaki, as it stresses an important event in the history of their people.

(3.) Windmill, porotaka. Two leaflet strips are doubled and placed as in Fig. 279A, where the strip, c d, encloses the other. The under arm, c, is bent over b, and passed through the loop, e, as in B. The last movement forms a loop, f. The arm, b, is bent over d and passed through the last loop, f, as in C. The four arms are drawn taut, and the loops thereby drawn close, as in D. A leaflet midrib is then passed
Figure 279. Technique of Windmill, porotaka.

Figure 279.
Technique of Windmill, porotaka.

page 321 through the middle and the thin end tied with an overhand knot to prevent it pulling through. Grasping the butt end of the midrib, the child holds the toy up and the windmill spins in the wind.
(4.) Spinner, kuere. A long strip of leaflet is taken and a collar put on one end, exactly as in the potaka hoop. The other end is then bent round, and after doubling back the tip end, it is inserted under the collar band to form
Figure 280. Leaflet spinner, kuere.

Figure 280.
Leaflet spinner, kuere.

the toy shown in Fig. 280. A thread of banana leaf fibre, kuo, is passed through the upper end and tied in a knot to prevent it slipping through. The thread may be tied to a leaflet midrib and carried in the hand, or a number of them may be tied at intervals to a horizontal cord suspended between two trees. Here they spin merrily in the wind.
(5.) Bull-roarer, patangitangi. A piece of leaflet, about 9 inches long and three-quarters of an inch wide, is doubled in the middle at A in Fig. 281. A piece of green leaflet midrib, about nine inches long, has one end pinned through the free ends of the leaflet strip at B. The other end is bent
Figure 281. Technique of leaflet bull-roarer, patangitangi.

Figure 281.
Technique of leaflet bull-roarer, patangitangi.

page 322 over in a bow and inserted between the layers at A, but not right through. The bow keeps the leaflet strip taut. The thin end of a long leaflet midrib is passed through under the pin at C, and is tied with an overhand knot.

The end of the midrib handle is held at D, and the toy is swung round and round, when it makes the typical bullroarer sound. Hence the name, patangitangi. Sometimes the wind pressure turns the edges of the leaflet strip in above. The toy ceases to make a sound. The edges must be separated slightly to again produce the sound.

There is no history of a wooden bull-roarer until after European influence, but the leaflet toy is definitely ancient. Mr. Drury Lowe informed me that in the Island of Mauke a bull-roarer was made of split cocoanut shell, pierced with holes to produce the roaring sound.

(6.) Leaflet canoe, vaka kopae. A toy canoe was made from the young leaves of the cocoanut palm, as they will not split when pinned together. The leaves of the rauhara pandanus may be used. Two leaflets are trimmed to leave about 13 inches of the leaflet attached to the midrib. About 6 inches of the butt end of the midrib is left at one end, and about 9 inches at the tip end. The two leaflet parts are overlapped slightly and pinned together with pieces of leaflet midrib, Fig. 282A. The longer tip ends of midrib are simply bent over and tied to the butt ends, Fig. 282B.

Figure 282.Leaflet canoe, vaka kopae.

Figure 282.
Leaflet canoe, vaka kopae.

These toy canoes may be made of any size. Ruatapu, after having aroused the curiosity of Taruia by the leaflet hoop, sent down a vaka kopae. Taruia then sent for him to see what manner of man he was. Tautoru, the son of Varokura, got into trouble with the children at the village of Puhipuhirangi for excelling them in the sailing of his vaka kopae.