Samoan Material Culture
Coconut leaf food platters
Coconut leaf food platters
Platters for serving food consist of temporary articles quickly made for one meal and more carefully made platters for continued use. The temporary class contains two forms; the mailo and the laulau. The permanent class consists of one form termed laulau but distinguished from the temporary laulau by technique and use.page 183
The mailo, also termed ma'ilo, consists of two forms; the unplaited, and the plaited. The unplaited mailo is quickly made by splitting off a strip of midrib carrying about 10 leaflets, separating the leaflets in the middle into two equal sets, pulling the leaflet ends together as two plies, and tying them in a reef knot. The under surface is turned upwards and forms a slightly concave triangular platter upon which food is placed. The plaited mailo (P1 XII, C, 1) is made from two leaf strips from opposite sides, each bearing 6 or more leaflets which are plaited together with a check stroke. (See fig. 91.)
Figure 91.—Plaited mailo platters:
a, With the under surface (tua) upwards, the strip bearing the dextrals is placed on the left with the two midrib strips practically in line. The three alternate dextrals (6, 4, and 2) are raised and the first leaflet from the right strip forming the first sinistral (1') is laid over the recumbent dextrals (1, 3, and 5). The leaflets from the strip on the right form natural sinistrals. When the first sinistral is placed in position, the others are held out of the way in the right hand. b, The left hand as it drops the raised dextrals over the first sinistral picks up the three recumbent dextrals and forms the shed for the second sinistral (2') which the right hand drops into position. With each movement, the left hand drops back one set of alternates and picks up the other and the right hand drops in the next sinistral until all six sinistrals have crossed the dextrals and have been plaited in. The dextrals projecting beyond the outside marginal sinistral (6') are gathered up and tied with an overhand knot (7). The projecting sinistrals beyond the marginal dextral (6) on the left are similarly dealt with and the mailo is completed. See Plate XII, C, 1, where each strip carried six leaflets. The leaflets throughout are kept open. The under surface of the leaflets being upwards, the platter has a slight concavity.
The temporary laulau (Pl. XII, C, 2.) is also plaited from two strips from opposite sides, each carrying 6 or more leaflets. It is commenced in a similar way to the plaited mailo but after the wefts have all crossed each other once, the plaiting is continued by bending in the leaflets to form side edges. (See fig. 92.)
Of the two forms of temporary plaited platters, the mailo is the much more important. It has come to assume an importance out of all proportion to its technique owing to custom having made it the correct platter upon which the fa'ausi preparation of grated talo must be served to high chiefs. Strict observance restricts the use of the mailo to those of the highest rank while chiefs of lesser status are served on breadfruit leaves alone. Fa'ausi is never served on the temporary laulau which, though better made and sometimes used page 184again, does not have the status of the simpler mailo. Here a cultural convention takes precedence over improved technique.
Figure 92.—Temporary laulau platters:
a, The strips are placed at an angle which approximates the line of the leaflets from the opposite strip. The dextral leaflets of the left strip are divided into two sets of alternates and the first sinistral (1') from the right strip laid in position. Again the other sinistrals on the right are kept out of the way in the right hand. The usual check technique is continued. b, All the sinistrals (1'-6') have been crossed over the dextrals and the position arrived at in plaiting the mailo. Instead, however, of knotting the ends, the plaiting is continued. c, The plaiting is continued to make a longer platter by simply turning in the projecting weft ends as in plaiting the left and right ends of a roof sheet. Thus, on the left side, the lowest sinistral (1') is bent in at right angles under the sinistral above it (2') to comply with the check technique. It now functions as a dextral 'and passes under and over the other sinistrals to maintain the check. The next sinistral (2') is similarly dealt with and (3') and (4') in turn. As this seems a convenient length for the platter, the sinistrals (5' and 6') are left as they are, but if greater length is desired, they may be turned in also. On the right side, the projecting dextrals are similarly dealt with. The lowest is (1) which has to be turned in over the dextral above it (2) to maintain the check. It now functions as a sinistral and is passed through the dextrals in check. This is followed in turn by the dextrals (2, 3, and 4), but they do not continue beyond the transverse line shown by the plaiting edge. The end is finished off by plaiting the leaflet ends into a three-ply braid commencing on the right and finishing on the left with an overhand knot (Plate XII, C, 2). The sinistrals run in the direction of the braid and are added from the inside while the dextrals are simply doubled over and added to the braid from the outside. A rougher finish may be made by knotting the two sets separately as in the mailo.
The permanent laulau (Pl. XII, D) marks an advance on the technique of the wall screen. As in the wall screen, the closed leaflets are used as wefts, but, whereas the screen wefts average about 0.8 inches in width, the platter wefts are reduced to half that width by splitting off the free edges of the leaflets. The reduction in width, which would make the plaiting too open, is corrected by using two strips instead of one to supply each set of wefts. The method of twisting the leaflets to keep the two midrib strips together to form one set of wefts is shown in figure 93.
The commencement is made by placing two double strips together with that bearing the sinistral wefts above the other as in the wall screen. The fa'a'au technique of running a horizontal row of dextral twilled twos across the sinistral wefts is exactly the same as in the wall screen. The craftswoman may please herself as to whether the first dextral shall pass over one, two, or page 185three sinistrals, for she can readily arrange the plaiting of the left edge to suit. The commencement, left edge, and body technique are all shown in figure 94. The right edge is turned in as in the screen sheet to comply with the pattern. The depth is reached when the ninth or tenth sinistral reaches the left edge. The plaiting edge is then defined by running a horizontal row of dextral checks across the full width.
Figure 93.—Permanent food platter, combining two midrib strips.
Two dextral bearing strips are placed together, referred to as the far and near strip. a, The strips are placed with the leaflets of the near strip (1,' 2,' and 3') opposite the leaflet intervals of the far strip. b, Commencing on the left, the first leaflet (1) of the far strip is twisted over two leaflets on the right (1' and 2), which means one from each strip. The leaflets twisted over are shown inclined to the left, where they are kept temporarily by the left middle finger. c, The first leaflet of the near strip (1') is now twisted over the next two leaflets on the right (2 and 2') again one from each strip. d, The next leaflet on the far strip (2) is twisted over two untwisted leaflets on the right (2' and 3). The technique is now established. The leaflet on the left is taken alternately from each strip and twisted over two untwisted leaflets on its right, which will always be one from each strip. Thus the next movement will be the leaflet (2') from the near strip over the two leaflets (3 and 3'). This is continued throughout to the right end of the strip. e, The finished appearance where the two strips are bound closely together and the dextral wefts of the near strip have filled in the gaps of the far strip. The two sinistral strips are treated in a similar manner except that the twisting commences on the right and the right leaflet from each strip is twisted alternately over two untwisted leaflets on the left.
The braid finish (fili). The far plaiting edge of the platter is finished off with a three-ply braid which differs in technique from that of the wall screen. Of the two sets of projecting dextrals and sinistrals, one set is braided on each surface of the platter. The set plaited on each surface is that which leans towards the plaiter, and the wefts are added to the middle ply of the braid from the right or plaited side. The back ply of the working pairs is always brought to the middle position by passing under the ply in front instead of over. To avoid confusion, the front ply of the working pair is always doubled back over its own course and the back ply brought into position with a half turn twist. On the right side, the additional weft from the plaiting edge is pulled up into position first before the back ply is twisted to the middle. This makes a further difference to the screen sheet braid in which the ply is twisted before the weft element. Another point of difference consists in dropping one element of the back ply when it enters the braid from the right. Braiding page 186commences on the far end of the under surface with the plaiting edge turned to the left. (See fig. 95.) The continuation of the braid on the other surface of the platter is shown in figure 96.
The permanent laulau is important in domestic economy. It is still in common, everyday use. All meals are served on plaited laulau. As they are effective and easy to make from material that is always available at no expense, they have rendered unnecessary the use of wooden vessels in the past and restricted the adoption of foreign crockery in the present.
Figure 94.—Food platter (laulau) twill commencement technique:
a, The first dextral (1) is raised and two sinistrals (1' and 2') passed under it. The second dextral (2) is raised, the third sinistral (3') is passed under it, and the first dextral, which is still kept raised. The first dextral (1) is dropped, the second (2) is kept raised, and the next dextral (3) is picked up. Holding the dextrals (2 and 3) up, the next sinistral (4') is passed under them and over the first dextral, which has been dropped. From here on the usual technique is carried on. The upper dextral of the pair is dropped, another dextral picked up from below and the next sinistral passed under them. The first projecting sinistral (1') is turned in under the sinistral (2') raised over (3') and dropped. Working upwards, the next sinistral (2') is turned in under the sinistral (3') and raised while the sinistral (4') is placed in position above the intervening dextral wefts (1 and 1'). The acting dextral (2') is then dropped over (4'). The next projecting sinistral (3') is passed under (4'), raised while the sinistral (5') is placed above the intervening dextrals and then dropped over it. The next projecting sinistral (4') is turned in under (5'), raised while the sinistral (6') is placed in position and then dropped over it. Between the crosing dextral twill (4) of the commencement and the crossing dextral (4'), the sinistral (6'), forming the base of the plaited triangle, has crossed over six dextrals. The craftswoman here decides that sinistral twilled sixes are as far as she will go. Before, therefore, the edge technique she has been following can be applied to the next sinistral (7') she must do something or it will result in a twilled seven. This is obviated by raising the dextral (3) over it and then turning the projecting sinistral (5') in from the left edge under the sinistral (6') and over (7'). The pattern, which consists at this stage of a vertical line of dextral checks and a developing vertical line of sinistral sixes, is thus maintained. In the next movement dealing with the sinistral (8'), the lower part of its course is attended to by keeping the dextral (3) raised and raising also the dextral above it (2) and dropping them over (8'). The projecting sinistral (6') is then turned in from the edge, passed under (7') and raised over (8'), again maintaining the vertical ones and sixes. The vertical dextral checks and sinistral sixes are under control, but before building up further, the pattern to the right of the vertical sixes must be decided. The next two vertical panels are to be dextral twos and sinistral fours. b, Glancing at (a), the dextral (3) has already formed a twilled two. Before the next sinistral (9') is moved, the dextral (3) must be dropped, (2) kept up and the one page 187above it (1) picked up. The sinistral (9') is passed under (2 and 1) and at the upper end of its course, the dextral (6') is dropped and the projecting sinistral (7') turned in under (8') and kept raised for (9') to pass under it. The vertical line of dextral twilled twos can now be controlled and directed by dropping the lower one and picking another up above that retained in each movement. The next element in the pattern, the sinistral fours, demands attention. To the right of the twilled twos, the sinistrals (7,' 8,' and 9') have passed over one, two, and four dextrals respectively. The weft (9') has established the beginning of the fours. Before the next sinistral (10') can be placed in position, the lowest dextral of the four crossed (6) must be raised or else the sinistral (10) will form a twilled five. The dextral (6) is accordingly raised, (2) dropped, (1) kept up and the dextral above it (1') raised, and the sinistral (10) placed in position. The upper ends are left for later treatment. The raising of the dextral (6) commences another vertical row of twilled dextral twos. For the sinistral (11'), the dextral (6) is kept up, the one above it (5) raised, the dextral (1) is dropped, (1') kept up and (2') picked up. For the next sinistral'(12') the dextral (6) is dropped, (5) kept up, the weft above it (4) picked up, (1') dropped, (2') kept up and (3') picked up. The sinistral has now commenced another vertical set of twilled sinistral fours. The technique already described is repeated and continued across the width of the plaiting. The left edge is formed by bending in the projecting sinistrals successively under the sinistral above. Then as they function as dextrals they are raised for one stroke to let the next sinistral pass beneath. As we have seen, the left edge is built up with turned in sinistrals that have run their course between the horizontal line of dextral twos that formed the commencement twilled row and the left edge. Hence, each sinistral must be correctly worked into the pattern throughout its course before it can be turned at the left edge.
Figure 95.—Laulau food platter, braid finish (first course):
a, In this position the sinistrals (1-4) are now directed towards the plaiter and as only one set is braided on this surface, they are the ones disposed of in order from the top. b, The second weft (2) is raised and the top weft (1) is twisted in under it from the left with the half turn twist which exposes its other surface. The raised weft (2) is then dropped over (1). c, The third weft (3) is raised, (2) is twisted in from the left and (3) dropped. The three plies (1, 2, and 3) are now established with the working pair (1 and 2) on the right. d, The front ply (2) is raised, the next weft (4) is pulled straight, the back ply (1) is twisted in from the right and (2) dropped over it. The weft (1) rests on the weft (4) which joins that ply. The back ply is now (3) on the left. e, The front page 188ply (1 and 4) is raised the back weft (3) twisted in and the front ply dropped over it. The technique is now established. The working pair is on the right. In the next movement, the back ply (2) will be twisted in under (3) and pick up the weft (5). f, By continuing the technique, the weft (3) has just picked up the weft (6) and each ply now contains two weft elements. The back ply of the working pair on the right contains the original weft (1) and the weft (4), which it picked up at the position marked (8). Here it was twisted in from the right (figure e) and lay on the new weft (4). At position (9) the ply was turned in from the left with a half turn, which brought the new weft (4) on top. As the ply has to turn in from the right in the next movement, and it contains two wefts, one of them has to be dropped. The top element (4), therefore, is twisted in to the middle, the under element (1) is left where it is and the next weft (7) picked up. Note that the half turn on the left places the shorter element underneath, which is the appropriate one to discard at the next turn on the right. g, The technique of dropping the shorter element on the right is shown. They drop out in the order in which they entered the braid. The course traveled by each weft in the braid is shown by (4). The technique keeps the braid thin, as no ply contains more than two wefts. The twist on the right drops a weft and picks up a new one, thus maintaining a pair throughout in each ply. h, After the braid is completed the discarded weft ends on the right are cut off short. The cut-off end of (1) is shown a little longer than in actual technique. They are cut off close under the twist and cannot be seen unless the twist part of the upper element is raised.
Figure 96.—Laulau food platter, braid finish (second course):
a, The braid with its three plies is shown at the bottom or near end of the plaiting edge, with a couple of dextrals (4 and 5) running in the direction away from the plaiter; b, the platter is turned over to expose the true upper surface. The braid ends are now at the far end of the plaiting edge and the dextrals left over from the first course are now directed towards the plaiter. Before doubling over the plies of the braid, the back ply (3) is twisted in over (2) to bring the working pair on the plaited side. c, Each ply is doubled over with a half turn. Thus ply (1) is now the back ply of the working pair. The under weft element (1') is therefore discarded and the under element (1) is ready to be twisted in from the right under the front ply (3) when it will pick up the new weft (4). d, The technique is exactly the same as on the other side. The discarded weft (1') has been cut off to avoid confusing the figure while the other discards commencing with (3') are shown on the right. The edge of the braid on the other side projects slightly beyond the edge of the new braid. The braiding is continued to the near edge when all the wefts are incorporated in the braid. The last wefts are continued on as a free braid tail, which is knotted, doubled over on to the under surface and kept there by passing the knot under a couple of crossing wefts. (See Plate XII, D, 2.) The ends of the midrib strip forming the commencement are also doubled in on the under surface and passed under some crossing wefts.