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Samoan Material Culture


A comparative study of Polynesian material culture, though tempting as each group of islands is investigated, cannot be dealt with comprehensively until the field survey of the whole Polynesian area has been completed. Polynesian culture has been affected by the neighboring cultures of Micronesia and Melanesia and the more distant cultures of Indonesia with also perhaps some influence from New Guinea. Until field work from all these areas is available, the comparative ethnologist can but make interim reports which may do good by arousing opposition and thus stimulating inquiry.

Linton (19, pp. 447-467) acting on Bacon's dictum that truth can be brought out of error much more readily than out of chaos, made a preliminary page 662comparative study of six Polynesian territories; Marquesas, New Zealand, Hawaii, Society Islands, Samoa, and Tonga. He found that Samoa and Tonga showed a closer cultural agreement than any other two Polynesian localities. The Marquesas and New Zealand showed an almost equally close agreement while Hawaiian culture resembled them on the material side. If the points of difference between the Marquesas, Hawaii, and New Zealand are carefully analyzed and local development excepted from the traits compared, it will probably be found that the differences between the three localities are less than is indicated by Linton's tables. As a case in point, the house entrance on the side is listed for the Marquesas and Hawaii while New Zealand is made to differ with the house entrance at the end. A well known type of Maori house exists, however, with the entrance at the side. It is this type that should be compared with the Polynesian house and not the specialized type listed by Linton.

The fly flap. It is difficult to dispose of culture traits fairly in the brief space allocated to them by parallel columns. The listing of the fly flap (19, p. 454) illustrates this. The fly flap is given as present in Hawaii, Society Islands, Samoa, and Tonga and absent in the Marquesas and New Zealand. The natural inference is that Hawaii shares a culture trait with Samoa that is absent from the more allied cultures of the Marquesas and New Zealand. Analysis of the trait shows that the Samoan article is a whisk of braided coconut fiber while the Hawaiian article is made of feathers. The Hawaiian feather whisk is part of a high chief's regalia and is associated with the feather cloak and feather helmet which form a distinct local development. The Samoan fiber whisk is in common use by all chiefs but the talking chiefs made their whisks larger to distinguish their particular office. Between the Hawaiian and the Samoan whisk's there is not the slightest affinity in technique. The connection is evidently the question of dealing with flies. But New Zealand, which is given a blank in Linton's table, also had a definite fly flap used to protect a corpse lying in state. In this flap, a narrow strip of leaf material was wound by wrapped work around four arms formed by tying a short crossbar to a handle and thus providing a lozenge-shaped surface. The three widely separated localities have each a fly flap produced by three totally different techniques. It may be suggested, however, that the Hawaiian and Samoan fly flaps are associated with chieftainship and thus show a trait in common that is absent from the New Zealand fly flap. Here again, it requires little thought to realize that in New Zealand it was the bodies of chiefs that were allowed to lie in state long enough to create the need for the fly flap. Thus various arguments can be adduced to show similarities between culture traits that are widely different as regards their origin and technique. A totally different technique indicates a new invention whether it was developed locally or entered a locality by diffusion. Hawaii and the Marquesas are really closer page 663together because neither used the utilitarian Samoan whisk made out of coconut fiber. New Zealand may be omitted from the comparison because she had neither the coconut palm nor the need for whisks to keep flies away from the living.

Bowling. It is difficult for an authority on one Polynesian locality to cover the whole area by means of brief comparative tables and avoid error. One difficulty is the question of what elements in the cultures of the various localities are truly comparable. If the question of origins is being studied, it seems an error to compare the plank canoe of one locality with the five-piece canoe of another when the two forms exist in each locality. Another difficulty is the question of exact data. Valuable data may not be available in print even of localities concerning which the information has up to now been considered as sufficient. This is true with Samoa as shown by the listing of bowling in Linton's tables (19, p. 453). For the six localities, bowling is given as important in Hawaii and not used in the other five. The natural deduction is that bowling a flat stone disc with an underhand throw is a local development in Hawaii. The disc under the name of te'a has been shown in this work to be present in Samoa in the form of a slice of green breadfruit or a disc of selected coral rock. It was thrown with or without a strip of hibiscus bark. Though Linton gives the game as absent in the Society Islands, it is well known under the name of pua in some of the islands of the neighboring Cook Group. A slice of breadfruit is used by children and a heavy well-made disc of ironwood is used by adults with a throwing strip of hibiscus bark. Though the Samoans throw with a jerk from behind the back, and the Cook Islanders use a forward throw, both throw for distance. In both Samoa and the Cook Islands, the evident origin of the disc from a slice of breadfruit is indicated by the use of the breadfruit disc as a makeshift, while in Hawaii it is significant that the name of ulu maika is applied to the polished stone disc when ulu is the Hawaiian name for breadfruit. New Zealand also cannot be dismissed from the comparison. Stone discs, for which no use can be assigned by the present population, have been found near a level sea beach which would form an excellent throwing ground. These discs, while forming an unsolved problem in relation to the culture traits of New Zealand itself, when considered in relation to the use of discs in other Polynesian localities, lead one to the opinion that like them they were used in a game of bowling for distance. Bowling has thus a wide distribution with Samoa, Cook Islands, Hawaii, and probably New Zealand. It was most probably present also in Tonga owing to its close cultural affinity with Samoa. Bowling, instead of being present only in Hawaii, is thus absent only in the Marquesas. Instead of bowling being a local development in Hawaii, it was a trait in a culture that extended from west to east and reached the northern and southern limits of the east marginal area.

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Throwing cord. The distribution of the throwing cord in Polynesia must also be revised in the light of more recent information. Linton's table (19, p. 452) confines the distribution to New Zealand and the Marquesas. The throwing cord is used in two ways; with the simple cord, or with the cord attached to a handle. In the Marquesas, the simple cord without a handle was described by Linton (19, p. 387). In New Zealand, the handle was used. The New Zealand method consisted of sticking one end of the dart in the ground in a slanting position. The knotted end of the cord was laid against the side of the dart towards its lower end, the cord took a turn around the dart and passed over itself on the inner side of the knot as in the simple form of throwing. The cord was held taut by the handle along the oblique course of the dart. A quick jerk with the handle propelled the dart forward and the cord was automatically released. Since the publication of Linton's work, I have described the throwing cord in the Cook Islands where both the simple form and the cord with a handle are used (39, pp. 337, 338). The Cook Islands method of using the handle differs from New Zealand in that after fixing the knot in the usual way, the cord is wound in a wide spiral round the dart which is then laid flat on the ground. A sharp jerk with the handle propels the dart. In this work, both the simple and the handle method are recorded for Samoa. The handle method is exactly the same as the Cook Islands method. Mr. Gerrit P. Wilder informed me that he was taught a method of dart throwing in Hawaii by a Hawaiian boy. A short cord with a knot at one end and the other end tied to a short handle, was fixed to the dart by the turn over the knot. Some wide spiral turns were taken round the dart with the cord, the dart was laid on the ground with the forward end slightly raised by placing a stick transversely under it and the dart then propelled by a forward jerk of the handle. This is exactly the same as the Cook Islands method. The simple method is thus recorded for the Marquesas, Cook Islands, and Samoa, while the handle method existed in Hawaii, Cook Islands, Samoa, and New Zealand. The New Zealand method is an advance on the Cook Islands method and can be quite adequately accounted for as being derived from a trait generally distributed through Polynesia. Linton lists the throwing cord among the cultural traits that he attributes to a negroid stratum (19, p. 463) in the Polynesian population. The supposed closer contact of the Marquesan and the Maori to the hypothetical negroid stratum cannot be supported by the more accurate distribution of the throwing cord given above.