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Samoan Material Culture

Pandanus mats

Pandanus mats

Material. In mat making the Samoans use three kinds of pandanus, distinguished as paongo, fala, and 'ie. As the leaves are used the material is generally referred to as laupaongo, laufala, and lau'ie. All three plants were seen growing in cultivation, where they were tended by keeping the larger growth cleared. In cultivation the trunks were a few feet high, ending in a single head of leaves. The old, dry leaves were removed and frequently the lower, outer leaves of the 'ie were bound round with a strip of dry leaf to prevent them from falling down. Leaves from uncultivated plants may be used as an expediency, but, for her mat material, the Samoan woman goes to per cultivated plants.

Of the three plants the paongo has the longest and widest leaf. Some of those measured that were lying out to dry were 10 feet long and over 4 inches side. The edges of the leaf are serrated with sharp spines and the under surfaces of the midrib are also armed with long spines. From the paongo are made coarse floor mats (papa or paongo) with very wide wefts. The correct time is paongo, as given by Pratt (23, p. 229), but many Samoans, owing to modern tendency to corrupt the ng sound into n, refer to the plant as paono.

The fala has a much smaller leaf, dried specimens measured being 5.5 to 6 feet long and 3 inches wide. It also differs from the paongo and the 'ie, in saving smooth edges to the leaf and but occasional spines on the back of the midrib. From the fala are made floor mats with a narrower weft, sleeping mats, and the small mats made for babies, which receive the general name of fala. The term fala is also applied to the fruit of the pistillate plant of all species, the keys of which are used for making necklaces ('ula fala).

The 'ie has a leaf much the same size as the laufala. A cooked specimen measured was over 5 feet in length and its width near the trimmed base of the leaf was slightly over 3 inches. It differs from the fala in having serrated edges with closer, smaller spines than the paongo and a close set of spines along the under surface of the midrib. From the upper layer of the horizantally split leaf, the 'ie tonga fine mats used as garments are made and also, in occasion, some finer sleeping mats. The 'ie must not be confounded with the 'ie'ie which is a Freycinetia and from the roots of which fish traps are made.

Setchell (29, pp. 116, 201), from a cultivated specimen procured for him by a Samoan who called it paono, recognized the plant as Pandanus whit-page 212meeanus Martelli. Setchell's description of the leaves, being as long as three meters and possibly longer with a width of ten centimeters, fits in with the characteristics of the paongo described above. He is wrong, however, when he suggests that the material of the 'ie tonga fine mats "Is probably paono (Pandanus whitmeeanus)…"

Setchell also gives the name of fala to Pandanus tectorius and its two varieties of P. saviensis and P. upoluensis described by Martelli. His specimens, however, were from uncultivated plants. Dr. Forest B. H. Brown, after a comparison of the cooked Samoan 'ie leaf with an intact tip end to specimens of P. tectorius from other regions, was of the opinion that the 'ie belonged to P. tectorius, but there was not enough material available to locate the variety. From my description of the cultivated fala he was of the opinion that it closely resembled P. tectorius var. laevis, which is also cultivated for mat material in the Society, Cook, and other islands to the east.

The adult, uncultivated tree pandanus with many branches and aerial roots is known as fasa and the efflorescence as singango. When there is a fruit, the tree seems to take the name of fala as well as the fruit. Reinecke (25, p. 58) has summed up the position that the staminate tree is called fasa and the pistillate, lau fala. In lau fala, lau, of course, refers to the leaf.

Preparation. The laupaongo are trimmed along the midribs to remove the sharp spines, and the spinulose-dentate margins are split off. This is termed autala. The leaves are spread out in the morning to dry in the sun (fa'ala) and gathered in at evening for a period of four or five days. Each individual leaf is then rolled round the left hand to open out the curled-in margins, thrown in a heap, and then rolled round the hand and other leaves added until a fair-sized circular roll one leaf in width is produced. The process and the roll is called fa'amasina (to make like a masina—a moon). The roll is kept together usually by four radial ties of fau bast or pandanus leaf strips which pass through the hole left on removing the hand.

The laufala are trimmed (autala) in the same way to remove the few midrib spines and smooth margins. Each leaf, commencing with the tip end, is then rolled round the left hand. The butt end is then doubled into the coil and at the same time the right hand draws out some of the middle loop, the left hand holds the tip end against the bent-in butt. The drawn-out turns form a loose spiral and the process is termed sapine. A number of leaves are attached loosely together by passing a strip of fau through the end loop of the leaves and knotting the ends of the strip together. The process is tui laufala (tui, to thread together) and each bundle is a taulanga laufala. They can thus be carried out and brought in more readily by means of the fau strips. The leaves are exposed to the sun (fa'ala) for 4 to 7 days. Straightening out both the leaf and its margins is termed fa'amafoloa. The leaf is rolled round one hand and then reversed by rolling it around the other hand. page 213All leaves thus treated are rolled into fa'amasina bundles (also termed ta'ainga) and then stored.

The preparation of the lau'ie is described on page 275.

Before plaiting, the rolls are untied and each leaf straightened out by scraping along the back or outer curve with a shell. The leaves may be further straightened and smoothed by rescraping with the shell. Each half leaf is then split from either side of the midrib which is discarded. At one time the splitting was done with a sharp point of bone or the spine of a porcupine fish but now a knife is used. The plaiter then splits the half leaves into the required widths for the wefts with the sharp point. The process is called totosi. A point was also obtained from the shell of the 'u'u, a species of mussel. The splitting usually commenced a few inches from the butt end
Figure 112.—Pandanus mat (paongo) double weft commencement:

Figure 112.—Pandanus mat (paongo) double weft commencement:

a, the two double wefts are laid parallel in a diagonal direction leaning towards the left, a point (see arrow head) is selected somewhere towards their middle for making the corner, and the upper element of the right weft (1) is raised out of the way; b, the lower element of the right weft (1') is then bent upward at right angles with a half turn and turned to the left over both elements of the double weft (2, 2'); c, the upper right element (1) is then straightened out and bent with a half turn backwards around the bend already made by the lower element (1') and turned to the left to pass between the two elements of the left weft (2, 2'). To do this the upper element (2) is raised with the left hand and after the turned weft (1) has passed over the lower element (2'), the upper element (2) is dropped back over it. The bend made by both elements of the right weft forms the far edge of the corner. The principle may now be laid down that, in bending weft elements to form a marginal edge, the upper element of a double weft will always be bent backwards and the lower element upwards. Furthermore, in interlacing two double wefts, the check technique must be maintained with the individual elements. Hence the two elements of a double weft must not be separated from each other by more than one element of another crossing weft. When the lower element (1') was turned forward over both elements (2, 2') of the crossing weft on the left, the upper element (1), when it was turned backwards had to pass between the two crossing elements (2 and 2'). The above principle applies only to turns at the corners and the marginal edges of the mat. d, The right edge of the corner must now be formed by the lower ends of the right double weft. It is obvious that the lower element (1') on being turned forward to occupy the upper position must pass below the upper element on the left (2) in order to comply with the check technique. The upper element (1) on being turned back must pass below the lower element on the left (2') or in other words below both left elements. It is more convenient to commence with the latter movement. Both elements of the left weft (2, 2') are, therefore, raised and the upper right element (1) is bent back at right angles on itself, passed to the left and the left double weft dropped over it. e, The lower right element (1') is now bent upward at right angles around the margin defined by its weft mate (1), the upper left element (2) is raised and then dropped over the right element (1') after it has crossed the lower left element (2').

page 214of the leaf so that there was an undivided portion of leaf keeping the wefts together.