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Samoan Material Culture

Kava bowls

Kava bowls

Kava bowls (tanoa 'ava) may be divided into two main types, round, and elliptical. All are cut out of a solid section of the tree.

Round bowls are practically circular at the rim with an inverted dome-shaped body set on legs and furnished with a perforated lug by which to suspend the bowl. They range in size from the small bowls for family use to the very large bowls used on ceremonial occasions. The cavity (liu) is evenly concave and fairly shallow. The proportion of depth to diameter ranges in the examples figured (Pl. IX, A and C) from 26 to 30 per cent. This forms a marked contrast to two large but proportionally much shallower Fijian kava bowls in Bishop Museum which give a width-depth index of 19 and 20.

The rim in all bowls has a level upper surface formed by the horizontal space between the inner and outer surfaces of the bowls. When the inner and outer surfaces are approximately parallel near the rim, the rim surface is but slightly wider than the thickness of the wood below which is accounted for by the angle formed by the upper surface. The outer surface of the bowl is sometimes inclined outwards from its normal plane near the rim and may make the upper surface of the rim as much as 0.5 inches greater than the thickness of the wood below it. (See Plate IX, A.) Again, the outer surface may be trimmed inwards which makes the rim upper surface narrower than the wood thickness below it. (See Plate IX C.) The upward directed surface of the Samoan rim is emphasized because in the two Fijian bowls mentioned above, the cavity has a concavo-convex curve which directs the surface of the rim outwards. The Samoan rim surface is usually perfectly level and plain but two bowls in Bishop Museum show the outer part of the surface slightly raised and incised with parallel oblique lines which give a corded ornamental effect (Pl. IX B). The rim is rarely quite circular, cross diameters usually varying about 0.25 inch and in some bowls as much as 1 inch.

The legs, normally consisting of four, are attached to the sides of the bowl usually 1 to 2 inches below the rim but sometimes as close as 0.5 inches (Pl. IX, B and C). The attachment to the bowl is oval with the broad end internal and the long axis radiating from the center. The curve of the outer part of the attachment is blunter when the legs are rounder in cross section. The legs taper towards the lower ends where they are elliptical or round in cross section. The amount of taper varies, ranging from legs nearly cylindrical to those that almost appear pointed. In some legs, the outer line from the junction to the lower end instead of being straight may be concave giving the false appearance of a curved leg. The lower ends may not be cut level, page 149as only part of the surface rests on the ground. Individual legs on the same bowl may vary in attachment level and proportions showing that exact measurements were not used by the craftsmen.

The spacing between legs is not exact, no two pairs being the same distance apart. With the lug towards the observer, the legs are wider apart from side to side than antero-posteriorly. The length of the legs, measured on the inner side, range in the series figured from 3 to 4.25 inches and all give good clearance to the bottom of the bowl.

The suspension lug, a constant feature in all bowls, projects from the outer side of the bowl midway between a more widely spaced pair of legs and approximately on the same level as the leg attachments. Two forms prevail; the "V" shape and the "T" shape. The "V" shaped lug may be open or solid. In forming the "V" shaped lug a solid triangle with the apex towards the rim is left in position on the outer surface of the bowl when shaping it from the solid. The base of the solid triangle is subsequently cut out to define the two sides into the arms of the "V" when making the open form. The arms range up to 2 inches in length and from 0.5 to 1 inch in depth or outward projection from the bowl surface. The thickness is less at the outer ends and may reach 1 inch at the junction of the arms. The surfaces of the arms are sloped towards each other to form a sharp edge, or the edge may be rounded off. The free edge of the arms may be trimmed down towards the free outer ends, making them lower there than at the apex. The free ends may be left vertical or cut at a slant. A hole is bored transversely through each arm on either side of the apex and on the level of the surface of the bowl.

In the solid "V" form, the wood between the sides of the triangle is not removed. Of the three sides of the triangle, the base is vertical but the sides are sloped inwards towards each other. The plane of the external surface is altered by cutting at a slant from the apex towards the base so that the apex is deeper than the base. Two holes, one on either side of the apex, are bored through the solid triangle to emerge through the base surface. (See Plate IX, C.)

In the "T" shaped lug, a triangular piece of wood, with the base towards the rim, is left on the outer surface of the bowl in shaping from, the solid. This is subsequently shaped into a raised "T" with the crossing limb formed by the base running parallel with the rim and the stem running radially towards the center. A hole is bored through the cross limb on either side of the stem junction.

One or more cords of sennit braid are passed through the holes and tied into a loop to which a thicker cord is tied, or longer cords are drawn through to their middle and plaited together into a thicker three-ply braid.

One type of Samoan bowl has many legs, rounded, or sometimes square, set close to the rim of the bowl. The extra number of legs was supposed to page 150distinguish Samoan kava bowls from those of Tonga and Fiji but is admitted by the Samoans themselves to be modern. (See Plate IX, D.) Such bowls are in common use but are particularly made for tourists who are charged so much a leg. The method of incised carving of the rim and inlaying with lime seems to have also been stimulated by the tourist traffic.

Elliptical bowls are small and only suitable for a few persons. The cavity at the rim is elliptical but the outer edge of the rim is prolonged into points at the ends to form an acute ellipse. The bowls have four leg's and a suspensory lug. The outer surfaces from the sides meet in a mesial longitudinal edge which extends from end to end on the under surface. The legs are round but somewhat elliptical at their junction with the body clue to the curve of the outer surface and are further away from the rim than in round bowls. The suspensory lugs, doubly perforated, are placed in the middle of one of the long sides, at a slightly higher level than the leg attachments. In the two bowls figured, one (Pl. X, B) forms a widely open "V," whilst the other (Pl. X, A) forms a roughly made straight projection parallel with the rim.

In Savaii, elliptical bowls with a flat bottom and without legs were in use in many families as kava bowls. They were of the same shape as the elliptical food bowls but were without handles at the ends.

Edge-Partington (10, vol. 1, p. 110) figures Fijian kava bowls of the elliptical form with pointed ends and four legs; also acute elliptical forms without legs.

Some of the large round bowls belonging to high chiefs were named and it was considered an honor to have the privilege of drinking kava prepared in them. Such a bowl belonged to the Tui Manua, Its manufacture was celebrated by the whole island of Tau. On the visit of the father of the present Tuitele of Tutuila with the chiefs of the Alatauan district to Tau, the bowl was used and a drinking competition developed. Bowl after bowl was prepared and finally, Nano of Tuitele's party, using a smaller kava bowl as a cup, won the competition. The bowl was then handed over to the victorious party, and remains in the possession of the Tuitele family.