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Samoan Material Culture

Round baskets

Round baskets

Round baskets (Plate XV) made of closed leaflets with twilled strokes are made throughout Samoa but doubt exists as to whether the form has been introduced or whether it forms part of their own culture. Except for the idea of forming the round bottom there is nothing in the technique that marks any gap between it and the processes already described. As, however, the elliptical bottom of the rough coconut leaf basket has been attributed by the Samoans themselves to influence from Niue, the round basket may be an adaptation of local technique to an idea obtained elsewhere. It is worth describing even as an adaptation of the technique already described.

The size of the baskets ranges from the neat size figured in Plate XV to very large ones used for holding clothes. Their use as clothes baskets has led to their receiving the name of 'ato lavalava (lavalava, kilt or skirt).

The rim is formed of two pairs of midrib strip, each pair supplying the opposing wefts after the leaflets have been twisted as in the laulau platters and the chief's basket. The commencement is the usual fa'a'au horizontal lines of twilled twos with the sinistral bearing strip to the outer side. Instead of horizontal twilled twos, the commencement may be made by lifting up three dextrals from behind three sinistrals and then dropping the dextrals alternately over the sinistrals. From this vertical lines of twilled threes are readily developed. The closure of the ends of the midrib strip at the rim is formed by the so'o join used in the si'u ola baskets. (See figure 105.) When the depth is reached, the plaiting edge is finished off evenly with a horizontal line of dextral twilled twos or checks.

The bottom rim. At this stage there is no deviation from the technique of the better class of ola baskets. If the sides were flattened in, and a two-course braid used to close the bottom, an ola would result. To form a round bottom, however, all the wefts must be turned in at right angles to the level plaiting edge. This is done by twisting each sinistral weft with a turn towards the plaiter so that it stands on edge with its midrib edge uppermost. It is then passed to the left round the next sinistral from the near side outwards where it receives another slight twist that againt flattens it with its midrib edge to the left. (See fig. 107.)

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The bottom is continued in the horizontal plane round the inner circumference of the bottom rim. The contraction occurs naturally owing to the narrowing of the wefts which have changed from 0.4 inches on the sides to 0.3 inches and less on the bottom. Here and there if necessary two wefts may be run together to insure narrowing but little of this is necessary. In a basket 15 inches across the bottom, the plaiting was carried on in the usual twills for about 5.5 inches from the bottom rim circumference, leaving a circular gap of about 4 inches in diameter to fill in.

Figure 107.—Round basket, bottom rim twist:

Figure 107.—Round basket, bottom rim twist:

a, the sinistral (1) is shown being twisted around the sinistral (2) in front of it. The sinistrals now pass from the previous vertical plane of the sides to the horizontal plane under the twisted sinistrals but receive no twist themselves. The dextrals carry on automatically with circumferential lines of twilled twos or threes. b, The sinistrals (1) after passing under the twists (3) form a marginal line of twilled twos.

Closing the bottom. The free projecting wefts are then divided into four equal divisions. Each of these is plaited into a free three-ply braid tail which is knotted. Two braids from opposite sides are then drawn across the opening on the inside of the basket and parallel with each other. Each braid is passed through under the wefts that form the near ply at the base or beginning of the opposite braid. The wefts are the long outer wefts of the ply and easily admit a braid being passed up under them. The ends of the braids are then carried along the inside of the bottom and the knotted ends passed through under a couple of wefts towards the bottom angle, the knots remaining on the inside of the basket. The basket is turned over and the other two braids crossed side by side over the two fixed braids. Their ends are pushed down through the openings left. The ends are pulled up on the inside through appropriate wefts near the margin of the hole and then carried out to have the knots fixed under a couple of wefts near the bottom margin. (See Plate XV, A, 1.) In this manner the bottom is effectively closed and there is no danger of the braids giving way. The method of adapting a three-ply braid to close the bottom is quite in keeping with Samoan technique though some think that the round basket may have been introduced.

Variations in closing. Two variations from the above common method were noted: (a) the four braids instead of commencing at the margins of the central opening were commenced near the bottom rim and the wefts from the plaiting simply added to the braid on either side as the plaiting proceeded page 204towards the centre and the plaiting thus advanced nearer to the centre leaving a smaller hole which was filled in by the braids crossing to the opposite sides where they were fixed under crossing wefts; (b) a large basket made in Savaii had the dextral wefts twisted on the inside to form the bottom rim. The bottom which was 20 inches in diameter was plaited in check for about 6 inches in from the rim. A marginal three-ply braid was then run round the plaiting edge, but the wefts, after taking a couple of twists in the braid, were discarded on the side of the braid towards the centre. On completing the first round, the braid was continued a slight distance away with the previous discards and the method of dropping out wefts on the side to the centre was continued. In this way a continuous circular braid was plaited forming a flat spiral until the opening was too small to continue. A thick three-ply braid was then made with the remaining weft ends continued as a free tail and knotted. The method is not neat and resembles an experiment. (See Plate XV, B.)

Figure 108.—Breadfruit cover (pulou 'ulu):

Figure 108.—Breadfruit cover (pulou 'ulu):

a, leaflets from right side of midrib on left form dextrals through the alternating sets of which the sinistrals from left side of right midrib are successively plaited in check. There are now the leaflets on the right side of the right midrib (2) in line to act as dextrals with those already functioning as such. b, The left midrib (1) is brought around the back of the other (2) to be on the right. In this position the other leaflets will form sinistrals to continue the plaiting. The crossing of the dextral 3 will indicate the future plaiting edge to be attained to. The lower dextrals (6-10) are separated to carry on the two sets of alternates continuous with the upper ones (4-1). The nearest sinistral (10') is placed in position and the top dextral 5 turned down on it. In this way, each sinistral is added and the top dextral turned down until all have engaged and the plaiting edge commenced by turning down the weft (5) is level.