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Samoan Material Culture


Plaiting forms one of the most important crafts of the Samoans. Plaited roof sheets are used in the canoe sheds and cooking houses, plaited ridge sheets in all houses, plaited carrying sheets for bringing the sugarcane leaf for the roofing of the better class of houses, and plaited wall screens for all dwelling and guest houses. The furnishing of houses is still incomplete without the plaited floor and sleeping mats. In connection with food, plaited baskets are a necessity for both transporting and storing cooked and uncooked food, while plaited trays are used in serving the meals. In providing clothing, apart from simple kilts and bark cloth, the technique availed of was entirely plaiting.

To appreciate the part played by plaiting in material culture, it must not be confounded with weaving. Plaiting is an older and simpler craft than weaving. As it dealt primarily with wider and stiffer strips of material than those usually used in weaving, the fingers were quite able to deal with the problems of technique encountered without seeking mechanical assistance. Plaiting in a technical sense means the interlacing of two sets of elements to form a continuous surface. The fabric or object made is usually of some extent. It may be kept flat as a sheet or mat, slightly concave as a tray, or the directions of plaiting may be so arranged as to form a receptacle or basket. The term plaiting is also applied to braiding. In braiding only a few elements are used and during the process of interlacing they are turned in successively at the sides to restrict the width and produce length.

Weaving resembles plaiting in using' two sets of interlacing and inter-page 165crossing elements to form a fabric. It resembles plaiting further m the manner in which the elements cross in check or twill strokes. The difference, however, consists fundamentally in the method of arranging the crossing elements at the commencement edge of the work. If we take a coconut leaf, the leaflet elements are already arranged by nature along a commencement edge formed by the leaf midrib, but they run diagonally in one direction to Provide a crossing set, the plaiter must commence at one end and bend the alternate leaflets in the opposite direction as she works along the already provided and fixed commencement edge. Where nature does not provide a commencement edge in the form of a midrib, the separate individual elements are added by crossing them in the two diagonal directions along a commencement edge that is formed by keeping the initial crossings in the same line. An element of each set demands attention in turn and it is the immediate. Interlacement and intercrossing of each pair with those preceding that fixes them in position and enables another pair to be added. When the commencement edge is completed for the width of the article, all the elements required will have been added along one line and divided into two sets that cross each diagonally in front of the worker. With reasonably stiff and wide elements, the technique of continuing the intercrossing and interlacing is simple. With softer and narrower elements, plaiting becomes difficult, not so much from the interlacing as from the liability of a large number of fine, soft elements to become tangled together.

Weaving is a technique developed in dealing with soft, pliable elements. The difficulties involved in fine plaiting were obviated by dealing first of all with one set of the crossing elements. This set of elements (warps) was fixed to some support or supports at one or both ends. The other set of crossing elements (wefts) was attended to as a single element at a time. Hence at the commencement edge only one set of elements was fixed together vertically or longitudinally to the worker. These were diverged into two sets, according to the stroke used, and one weft element carried across between them at right angles to the warp and transversely to the worker. Apart from he use of mechanical contrivance and the nature of the material, the fundamental difference between plaiting and weaving begins at the very commencement edge of the article in process. The above recapitulation is necessary to a clear understanding of the technique of Samoan textiles.