Samoan Material Culture
Vessels and bowls
Vessels and bowls
Containers naturally divide into three classes: small, natural vessels of half coconut shells, water vessels, and wooden bowls.
Coconut shell cup (ipu niu). The small vessels used in connection with food are plentifully supplied by the half coconut shells that have had their contents removed in preparing coconut cream. The mature nuts are divided into two transversely, and the half shells bearing the muli points are picked up from the heap of discards when needed. The other half shells are unsuitable as they perforate through one of the eyes. The cups are used in serving banana poi and raw fish such as bonito which are cut up in a bowl with fresh water. The blood-stained water flavored with some ingredient is served in the cup with the pieces of fish. Other foods of a fluid nature such as vaisalo are also served in coconut cups. The shells are not specially prepared in any way beyond tearing away any of the husk fibers that may adhere round the rim. After use, they are discarded, and fresh cups provided when the need occurs.
Drinking cups for water are provided by using the specially prepared half shell in which kava is served. This together with the kava bowl forms part page 105of the domestic equipment. Only one such cup is necessary, for water is only served when asked for, and people wait their turn.
Water vessels. The common vessel for containing drinking water was the whole shell of the large coconuts. Large, mature nuts were husked and perforated through the mata eye. The liquid was poured out and the nut filled with sea water. The sea water rotted the coconut meat to a liquid consistency in a fortnight or so. The fluid meat can then be shaken out and the vessel washed out with fillings of fresh water.
A single water bottle so formed was simply called vai (water) or soni, or fua'ivai. An ancient Manuan name is ta'ai. Usually, however, the shells were tied together in pairs (taulua) by boring another hole through one of the depressions near the mata hole already made. A piece of sennit braid was run through the two holes and tied while the other end of the sennit was passed through the pair of holes in another shell, and the two thus looped together. Two pairs were again looped together so as to enable them to be hung over the end of a carrying pole. Plate IV D shows two sets of four hung over the short carrying pole that was usually used. In many of the more remote villages, the women can still be seen carrying home the supply of drinking water in these vessels. In most of the Polynesian islands the suspending cords of the water vessels are neatly braided, but the Samoan examples figured are very roughly tied together without any particular attention to neat technique.
Pratt (23, p. 300) gives tangatanga as a net to hold water bottles, but no samples were seen by me. A tulula is also a long basket to hold vessels. Gourds called fangu were also used to contain oil. They were said to be small and their use as water vessels was denied.
Large bamboo stems ('ofe) were at one time used as water vessels, the end nodes shutting off a hollow compartment while the intermediate nodes were perforated. The upper end node was of necessity perforated, and then closed with a stopper. For a recently made concrete construction in a back village in Savaii, the water was carried from a neighboring spring in bamboo receptacles.
Wooden bowls ('umete) were used in the preparation of foods such as coconut cream (pe'epe'e), poi, fa'fausi, and taufolo. For the more liquid foods cooked by dropping hot stones into the food, wooden bowls were an absolute necessity. For cutting up uncooked fish to serve raw the wooden bowl was also needed. Thus, though wooden bowls were a necessity in culinary operations, the range of use was somewhat restricted as many of the uses usually associated with bowls were not in vogue. Food was not washed. Except for the foods mentioned above, cooked food was transported direct from the oven to the eating house in baskets. From them the food was placed on leaves and plaited platters, and wooden bowls were not necessary for serving pork, page 106fish, fowl, or vegetables. The easily procured coconut cup took the place of bowls in serving the more liquid foods. Even for washing the hands, it was usual to pour the water on them. The special bowls used in preparing kava are described under that heading. Outside of food, bowls were used in the preparation of dyes, and for holding the instruments during the operation of tattooing.
Bowls were made usually of ifilele and milo wood. The Callophyllum inophyllum wood so much used in eastern Polynesia though present in Samoa was not in favor as material. The bowls were cut out of the solid. Food bowls are called 'umete to distinguish them from the kava bowls which are called tanoa, though food bowls are now sometimes loosely referred to as tanoa. Special names for variations in shape were not used, but they were roughly classified into large bowls ('umete tele) and small bowls ('umete laitiiti). From the shape of the opening they may be classified as elliptical, round, and acute elliptical.
In the manufacture of bowls, the external surface (lau) is shaped first of all. The bottom is left flat and for elliptical and round bowls, projections are left at either end to form handles. The sides are shaped with an even convex curve from rim to bottom while towards the ends, the converging surfaces are made to meet in a mesial longitudinal edge which extends upwards from the bottom to the under surface of the handle projections. The upper part of the wood is cut off level or in a slight, curve longitudinally to define the rim and the upper surface of the handles. The handles ('au) project outwards with a flat upper surface the sides of which are parallel or slightly constricted at the junction with the rim. The two sides of the handles are shaped downwards and inwards to an edge which meets the mesial longitudinal edge formed already. The outer ends of the handles are cut off square or they may form a slight slant inwards or outwards.
The bowl cavity (liu) is then hollowed out by commencing with sharp downward strokes to define the inner edge of the rim. A, carpenter seen at work judged entirely by eye and had no hesitation in placing his strokes. At the sides, the inner curve runs parallel with the curve of the outer edge but towards the ends it gradually leaves it to form even rounded ends in elliptical and round bowls. In acute elliptical bowls, the inner curve runs parallel with the outer curve throughout and the curves from either side meet at an angle at the ends. The shaping of the cavity defines the upper surface of the rim (laufa'i) which is horizontal and gradually widens towards the ends where it is continuous with the upper surface of the handles. As the work deepens, the curve of the interior becomes sharper to make the bowl thicker towards the bottom than at the rim. In larger bowls, the bottom is flat but in smaller bowls, the bottom is rounded. In elliptical and found bowls, the natural, flat external surface is maintained and does away with the use of legs but in page 107acute elliptical bowls, the bottom is shaped into a pair of short projections on either side by cutting away the intervening material and continuing the general external curves to meet in an edge on the bottom between the lateral pairs of projections which makes the mesial longitudinal edge on the bottom continuous with that of the ends. (See fig. 67.)
Figure 67.—Types of bowls:
upper row, view looking into' bowl; lower, side view. a, Medium sized elliptical bowl; common shape with handle at each end. Outside measurement, length 21 inches, width 12.75 inches, depth 5.75 inches; rim with projecting sharp external edge, width of upper rim surface in middle transverse line 0.6 inches, thickness of bowl 0.2 inches; below upper edge where rim projection meets it 0.3 inches; handles, length in middle line 1 inch, width 2 inches, depth 1 inch, triangular in section with lower sharp edge. Median longitudinal edge present extending from lower edge of handle to flat bottom. Bottom, thickness 1 inch, flat internally. Length breadth index, 67. b, Smaller long elliptical bowl, flat bottom with handles. Outside measurement, length 15.5 inches, width 7.25 inches, depth 3 inches. Upper rim surface formed by meeting of planes of outer and inner surfaces of bowl, no projecting outer edge; width in middle transverse line 0.3 inches gradually increasing towards ends. Handles, length, 0.6 inches; width at outer ends, 0.9 and 1.1 inches; depth, 1 inch; constricted at junction with bowl; bottom flat externally, rounded internally. Length breadth index, 56. External longitudinal edge at ends present. c, Small round bowl. Length between handles 9.2 inches, inside length of rim opening 7 inches, inside width 6.7 inches, outside depth 3 inches; handles, length, 0.7 inches; width, 0.8 inches; depth, 0.9 inches; right handle perforated for sennit loop for suspension when not in use; bottom flat externally, rounded internally; external longitudinal end edges present. Length breadth index of opening, 95. d, Acute elliptical bowl with legs, no handles: length 21 inches, width 6 inches, depth not quite 4 inches; external and internal surfaces meet at sharp angles at ends, the acute angled groove on inner surface continued down from ends towards the bottom. The external longitudinal edge continuous from ends along under surface of the bottom, but bottom is rounded internally; legs consist of a pair of short projections on either side of middle line, each leg roughly rectangular 1.6 inches longitudinally, 0.7 inches transversely, depth 0.3 inches on the inner side which allows mesial longitudinal edge on bottom to rest on the ground. Opposite pairs1.4 inches apart, legs on same side 3.3 inches apart.
After the bowls are completed, they were left to soak for some considerable time in water holes to season the wood and prevent splitting. At Asau, Savaii, large numbers of bowls were seen lying on the bottom of the pools in which bathing took place.
Of the three forms of bowl, the elliptical was by far the commonest. The round bowl (see figure 67c) is not quite circular, for the longitudinal diam-page 108eter is slightly greater than the transverse, and this is emphasized by retaining the external longitudinal mesial edge at the ends. Kramer (18, vol. 2, p. 133) figures a round bowl with legs, a serrated rim, and one long handle with a downward projection from its outer end.
The acute elliptical bowl, owing to the sharper grooved ends acting as spouts, could be used for pouring out liquids.
The masoa bowl. The bowl for preparing masoa (arrowroot) (Pl. X D) could be classed under round bowls but the construction and use is so specialized that it is classed separately. The bowl which was obtained in Leone, Tutuila, was made in Savaii in 1866 and is very large as Samoan bowls go. The features are the circular shape devoid of any external longitudinal edges, and the round bottom necessitating the use of legs and the four handles. The handles appear like sections of a pole stuck horizontally against the side of the bowl. The rounded nature of the handle in cross section enables the fingers to secure a firm grip.
Attention has been drawn to the distinction between 'umete and tanoa which is breaking down. An old name for a food bowl in Manua is taneuli. The masoa bowl was called a tanoa by its donors, the Ripley family. If correct it is due to the rounded form with legs resembling the kava bowl in construction. If there was a distinction in name between the elliptical, round, and acute elliptical forms, they have been forgotten. Following the general Polynesian custom, qualifying terms denoting the use to which the bowl was put are often added in conversation. Thus the small round bowl (fig. 67 c) was 'umete fai palusami (bowl for preparing palusami); the elliptical bowl (fig. 67 b), 'umete fai taufolo (bowl for preparing taufolo); and the acute elliptical form (fig. 67 d), 'umete fulu fa'i (bowl for preparing bananas). As palusami, taufolo, and bananas have been seen constantly prepared in the ordinary larger elliptical bowls, these terms may be regarded as general descriptive terms, and not specific names. They happened to be the particular bowls so used at the particular time by the family who disposed of them, and the terms described the use to which they had been put. Other families might apply similar terms to differently shaped and sized bowls. As an exact Samoan terminology they can not stand.