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Samoan Material Culture

Fala mats

Fala mats

Mats made from laufala have received the name fala from the material. The name has come to be used generally and may be carelessly applied to mats made of paongo. They may be divided into floor mats and sleeping mats for which a different technique is used. With sleeping mats may be included the small special mats made for babies.

Floor mats. The fala material does not admit of such wide wefts as the papa. An average weft is 0.5 inches. They may be made in the same sizes as the papa or much larger. Very large mats have been made to carpet the rooms of foreign houses but such forms were inconvenient for strictly Samoan use. The smaller sizes are more convenient for rolling up and stacking away on the house shelves, and on ordinary occasions only such parts of the house were covered with mats as were in use. The smaller sizes were also more convenient for pushing aside to expose the gravel floor on which a kava libation could be poured or a round-bottomed receptacle set by scraping away the stones.

Double wefts with a check stroke and the individual element turn at the corners and edges were used as in the technique of the papa mats. There is no difference except in the nature of the material and the width of the wefts. (See Plate XVII, A, 2.)

Sleeping mats (fala moenga). In the sleeping mats the single narrower wefts were used, averaging about 0.25 inches or narrower. Though the check formed the basis of the technique, twills were commonly used and change of stroke as in the wall screens and laulau platters were introduced as structural decoration. Applied decoration, by overlaying with the black strips obtained from the outer skin at the base of the plantain trunks (soa'a), was used sparingly or probably not at all in olden days. So also the structural decoration by means of wefts dyed black with lama, to be seen on mats with or without introduced worsted fringes (Pl. XVII, C, 2) are probably as modern as the colored wool material. Tourist traffic has given a greater incentive to the use of color.

Plaiting (lalanga), qualified by the number, supplies the name for the plaiting strokes used. Thus lalanga tasi denotes check and lalanga lua, tolu, fa, lima gives the twills from two to five. A combination of strokes may be page 217similarly denoted as lalanga lua ma lalanga tasi (twilled two and a check). The term si'i (to lift) is also used with a number to denote twills as si'i lua (twilled two), si'ifa (twilled four). Instead of lalanga, lau (weft) may be used as lautasi (check) and laulua (twilled two).

The half leaves of prepared fala, usually about 1.25 inches in width, are split (totosi) into five wefts, commencing at a few inches from the butt end and running out at the tip end. (See fig. 115.)

Figure 115.—Sleeping mat (fala) double butt commencement:

Figure 115.—Sleeping mat (fala) double butt commencement:

The commencement is made by crossing two butt strips (1, 2) with the under side (tua) of the leaf uppermost and the sinistral bearing strip above (2). In this position, the sinistrals are held by the right hand while the left hand manipulates the dextrals in turn according to a commencing transverse check or twill while the right hand drops the sinistrals into position in turn. The technique is similar to that in the wall screens and laulau but instead of the whole line of crossing wefts being in position, the dextral (3, 5, 7) and sinistral (4, 6, 8) butts are added on the right as the last weft of the previous strip is used. The left hand also retains the dextrals until a sufficient number to form a working edge are engaged. Then with each rearrangement or movement of dextrals, the top working dextral is dropped and the next dextral picked up. In this way the width of the commencing edge is reached.

The Samoan commencement corresponds to the Cook Islands hatu rua (39, p. 110).

The side edges are usually formed by binding in the marginal projecting wefts directly without a half turn as in the afeafe turn of the laulau platter. In some mats, a half turn is made as the projecting sinistrals on the left are turned in at right angles to function as dextrals or as the projecting dextrals on the right are turned in to act as sinistrals. The side edges formed by the above two methods are plain and simple. (See fig. 116.)

Adding fresh side wefts (fa'aulu): In some mats, in order to afterwards make more elaborate side edges, the wefts are left projecting at the side edges for subsequent treatment. The plaiting, however, cannot advance in a page 218vertical edge on the left if the sinistrals are merely left out as they reach the marginal line. They have hitherto supplied the crossing dextrals by being bent in at the left margin. If they are to be left projecting, fresh dextrals must be added from the left margin. This is done as in figure 116 c, by adding fresh butt strips and adding their weft strips successively from below up as the left margin is built up to start another working section. Similarly, on the right, fresh sinistrals have to be supplied as each working section reaches the right in order that the right margin may be defined in closing up the section to the level of the plaiting edge.

Figure 116.—Left edge of sleeping mat, methods of turning in the sinistral wefts:

Figure 116.—Left edge of sleeping mat, methods of turning in the sinistral wefts:

a, the wefts (1) are turned in to function as dextrals by a direct bend without exposing the other surface; b, the wefts (1) are turned in with a half-turn which brings up the other surface of the wefts; c, fresh dextral weft butts (1) are added to the left margin of the plaiting to build up the left edge with each successive working section.

The finishing edge. The Samoan method of finishing off the far edge of the mat is simple. The finishing technique is carried out along the plaiting edge of the last working section, by turning down the top dextral which would otherwise be dropped out of the working set of dextrals. The top dextral is turned down on the working sinistral that is placed in the shed prepared for it and included with the sinistral between the crossing dextrals as the movement is completed. (See fig. 117.)

On the right end of the finishing edge, the last few wefts which have no depth of working edge in which to be fixed, are plaited on as a free three ply tail which is knotted, doubled back on the under surface, and fixed under a couple of crossing wefts of the completed plaiting.

The object of plaiting the mat with the under surface turned upward is now apparent. The turned-down wefts with their cut-off ends are on the under surface of the mat and prevent any irregularities from appearing on the true upper surface when the completed mat is turned. If a mat is plaited with the true upper surface upwards in order to work out some geometrical designs, it is always turned under side upwards to plait the finishing edge.

When the turns of the top dextral are made to define the finishing edge, the top dextral is raised and then dropped on the sinistral placed in the shed. The half turn made by the dextral is thus above the sinistral which projects page 219behind the dextral turn. When cut off, the end of the sinistral can be seen at the edge. In some neat mats, the projecting sinistral end is cut off and the top dextral passed behind the end. In making its half turn upward, the cut off end of the sinistral is buried in the turn made by the dextral. This technique gives a smooth edge.

Figure 117.—Sleeping mat (fala), finishing edge:

Figure 117.—Sleeping mat (fala), finishing edge:

a, The plaiting edge of the completed section on right. The left edge has been worked up until a working edge is obtained. The working dextrals consist of two sets of three; the recumbent set (2, 4, and 6) and the raised set (3, 5, 7). The weft (1), were it not for the left edge, would be turned forward as the discarded top dextral. Into the shed formed, the sinistral (1') has been placed. b, According to the rule laid down above, the discarded top dextral must be turned down on the sinistral (1'). The weft (1) which has reached the edge as a sinistral is given the turn it would have received had the plaiting continued up the left side and brought across the sinistral to function as a dextral. It is then given another half turn and turned down at right angles to lie on the sinistral (1'). c, The check movement is made as usual by dropping the top raised dextral (3), picking up (4) and so alternately until the raised set (3, 5, 7) have been crossed over the sinistral (1') with the turned down weft lying on it and the other set (4, 6, and 8) are raised and held in the left hand. Note that as the top working dextral (2) of the last working set has been discarded the next dextral below (8) has been picked up to complete the working set. The shed has also been formed for the next sinistral on the right (2'). Below the last crossing weft of the series brought over (7), the free end of the turned down dextral projects. With the disposal of the first turned down dextral, the technique is established. d, The next sinistral (2') is placed in the shed prepared by the last movement. The discarded top dextral (2) is turned down at right angles on it. The movement is completed by crossing the raised set of dextrals (4, 6, 8), picking up the recumbent dextrals (5 and 7) and the next dextral below (9) to complete the working series as the top dextral (3) of the previous movement has been dropped out of the working dextrals. The shed is automatically prepared for the next sinistral (3'), upon which the dropped top dextral (3) will be turned down. e, The automatic combination of this technique is shown. When completed, the long ends of the turned down dextrals are cut off below the last crossing dextral and the projecting ends of the sinistrals are also cut off at the finishing edge as shown in the left of the figure.

The commencing end finish. The commencing end of the mat with two sets of crossing, unsplit butt strips is now turned to the front, still with the page 220true under side upwards. The butt strips are split by running out their component wefts from the edge of the completed plaiting. This results in a level plaiting edge with projecting sinistral and dextral free weft ends. The plaiting is continued up the left edge until a working edge is secured and then turning down the top dextrals in exactly the same way as described in the finishing edge. The ends of the still projecting sinistrals are cut off at the edge and the turned down dextrals on the body treated in the same way.

The varieties of the technique used in turning mat edges that were observed in the field, and on mats acquired by Bishop Museum are here classified, but there may be others that were not available for this study.

Figure 118.—Sleeping mat (fala), types of end finish:

Figure 118.—Sleeping mat (fala), types of end finish:

a, exposed sinistral ends. In the technique described, the dropped top dextral (1) is lifted up and turned on the upper surface of the sinistral (2) placed in the working shed. The sinistral ends (3) when cut off can be seen when the edge is examined as seen on the left of the figure. b, Concealed sinistral ends. The dropped top dextral (1) is passed behind the sinistral (2) lying in the shed. c, The sinistral is cut off above the lower margin of the dextral crossing behind it. When the dextral (1) is given a half turn, the cut off end of the sinistral (2) is effectively concealed by the turn. Without knowing the technique, one wonders how the ends of the sinistrals were disposed of. See margin on left of c and compare with a. d, The tucked-down sinistral edge. Following the usual technique (a), the dextrals (1) are turned down at the working edge and the sinistrals (2) left projecting behind them. Each sinistral (2) is then given a half turn at the edge when it projects downwards at right angles to its previous course, and lies on the plaiting, along the course of the dextral that was previously turned down on it at the working edge. Usually three crossing wefts that cross over the dextral course are selected and the sinistral is cut off so as to coincide with the required length. The end of the sinistral is pushed through under the crossing wefts, the sinistral weft is drawn taut and the end concealed under the lowest crossing weft of the series. All the sinistrals are so dealt with and the result is a firm even edge.

Direct bend. This is the afeafe bend used at the side edges where the wefts are turned in successively at right angles to their course without changing the exposed surface of the weft. (See fig. 116 a.) Owing to the difference of color and appearance of the true upper and lower surfaces of the weft material, the true upper surfaces of the weft must be kept to that which will form the true upper surface of the mat. A half turn at the right and left edges would cause the under surface of the weft material to appear on the true upper mat surface and spoil the appearance. This technique is used in wall screens and laulau platters for a similar reason.

Half turn. The half turn which exposes the other surface of the weft page 221is used at finishing edges because the change which is on the true under surface of the mat, will not show when it is in use. It, however, only disposes of functioning dextrals and forms only part of the technique. (See figs. 116 b and 117.)

The half turn is used at side edges when the wefts contain two elements. Double wefts are arranged back to back so to speak so that the smoother, more shiny true upper surface faces outwards on both surfaces. In such cases, the half turn makes no difference in appearance to either mat surface. This is evident in the paongo and fala floor mats and in the baby mats made with this technique. Being used at the side edges, where the projecting weft of one series is converted by the half turn into the commencement of the other series, there are no projecting ends left to dispose of and the method thus forms a complete technical process. (See figures 112, 113 and 114.)

The cut-off sinistral edge. This is the end finish described which forms the complement to the half turn method adopted with functioning dextrals. Two forms are in use. (See fig. 118 a and c.)

The tucked in method applies to the finishing and commencing ends of mats. (See fig. 118 d.) As it is somewhat tedious, it is usually reserved for baby mats or for more ornamental sleeping mats in which color has been introduced. It can also be applied to the side edges, when wefts have been added to the sides to form side plaiting edges.

The two-side three-ply braid. In a baby mat, the three-ply continuous braid made along one surface with the projecting free sinistrals and continued on down the other surface with the free dextrals, as in the laulau platter finish, was observed. (See figs. 95 and 96.) The narrower wefts, however, were more neatly brought in with a flat, half turn and instead of being finished off with a free, braided tail, the end wefts were pushed through the commencing wefts to continue the braid which is thus continuous without any apparent end. The weft ends, discarded after a course in the braid, were neatly cut off.

The serrated edge (fa'atalatala). The serrated edge (talatala, with points) is formed of sets of three or more crossing wefts plaited to form triangles of which the base is formed by the original plaiting edge and the sides by free edges obtained by doubling back the wefts which project beyond the marginal wefts defining them. In figure 119, sets of four are used.

The second part of the process consists of dealing with the free ends of the wefts used in making the triangles. The points of the serrated edge are now turned towards the worker, as in figure 120. The technique is simply that of the finishing edge. (See fig. 117.) The method forms a separate, distinct band of plaiting on the plaiting side of the serrations, distinct from the plaiting of the body, and has a free edge formed by the dextral turns. This is the common form, but in some better mats, where the sinistrals have page 222
Figure 119.—Sleeping mat (fala), serrated edge technique:

Figure 119.—Sleeping mat (fala), serrated edge technique:

a, the plaiting edge is defined by the dotted line of checks placed longitudinally to the plaiter with the free ends projecting to the right. In this position, four dextrals and four sinistrals are continued in check plaiting for as far as they cross each other. The positions are now reversed for what were originally sinistrals now function as dextrals. Of the set so dealt with, the near dextral (1') and the far sinistral (4) define the sides of the triangle. All wefts projecting beyond them are to be doubled back with a continuation of the check technique. b, Commencing with the near side formed by the dextral (1'), the sinistrals (1 and 3) which pass under it are doubled over it and the other pair (2 and 4) which pass over it are left. c, The marginal dextral (1') is doubled back on itself; d, the remaining pair of sinistrals (2 and 4) are then doubled forward over the marginal dextral (1'), thus defining the plaited near edge. The two pairs of sinistrals (1, 3, and 2, 4) are the working wefts in this technique. c, Continuing the check, the pair (1, 3) is raised, and the next weft projecting beyond the far edge (2') is doubled back on itself and over the recumbent pair (2, 4). The raised pair (1, 3) is dropped over it. f, As the pair (1, 3) was dropped, the other pair (2, 4) was picked up and the next projecting weft (3') laid in position and covered. g, As the pair (2, 4) was dropped in the last movement, the other pair (1, 3) was picked up, the last projecting weft (4') placed in position and on dropping the pair (1, 3) the triangle was completed. h, Beyond the completed triangle, the next set of four crossing wefts which are similarly numbered are similarly treated. The method is carried out along the full length of the plaiting edge to be so treated.

been carried back for some distance on the body of the mat by pushing the ends under a number of crossing wefts, the band edge is bound down to the plaiting and gives the appearance of a different technique. In some mats, these sinistral weft ends are carried back for six inches and in following the wefts on which they lie, they naturally comply with any change of stroke on their course. Their disposal is thus effectively concealed.

The sleeping mats with serrated edges usually have the serrations carried around on all four edges. (See Pl. XVII, C, 1.) In forming the side edges, new wefts have therefore to be added at the sides (fa'aulu) to provide the crossing elements, and the direct bend or half-turn edge can not be used.

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Figure 120.—Sleeping mat (fala), serrated edge finish:

Figure 120.—Sleeping mat (fala), serrated edge finish:

a, commencing on the left with the working pairs of the first triangle (1 to 4), these are lifted up from under the weft ends of the succeeding triangle. In this position, they are dextrals and form a natural working edge at the line where they cease operating. The check technique is continued without any rearrangement and the sinistrals from the next triangle fall naturally into position. b, The previous recumbent working pair (2, 4) is raised and with it the top dextral weft (1) is kept up. The first sinistral from the next triangle (1') is placed in the shed and fits in with the check technique of its own plaited triangle. c, The top dextral (1) is given a half turn and laid on the course of the sinistral (1'). The raised pair (2, 4) is then crossed over it. d, From now on the technique is a repetition of the above movement. With each movement a new dextral is picked up from the right and the top dextral is turned down on the sinistral in the shed prepared with the appearance shown. The ends of the turned-down dextrals may be simply cut off below the furthest crossing wefts or they may be poked under the already plaited crossing wefts on their course and cut off before they reach the free edge of the serration or actually at the serrated edge. (See 1, 2, and 3.) The free ends of the sinistrals may also be cut off at the turned edge of the plaiting (4) or poked through under a few crossing wefts on the body of the plaiting and the end concealed under the last crossing weft (5).

Baby mats. Small mats averaging 38 inches in length and 24 inches in width are made as sleeping mats (fala lili'i) for babies. The term lili'i (small) applies to the size and also to the narrower wefts but the name of fala pepe is now usually used. The Samoan term for "baby" is pepe. The technique for ordinary sleeping mats is used, but with more care and variety of stroke. A mother or grandmother demonstrates her regard for the baby by care in the selection of material and skill in the use of the more uncommon forms of decoration and edge finish. The wefts may be as narrow as 0.2 inches. The variety in technique is demonstrated by three such mats in Bishop Museum.

The body is made of double wefts of the somewhat wide width of 0.4 inches. The commencement was made along one of the wide edges and the technical side edges form the shorter ends when in use. The double wefts are turned in at the sides with the typical two half turns described with floor mats. (See fig. 114.) The stroke of the body is check, but at intervals the monotony is relieved by rows of dextral and sinistral twilled twos. About 2.25 inches from the finishing long edge, the double wefts are separated into two layers and each weft element split into two. The plaiting of one layer is continued with the narrower wefts in twilled twos for a depth of 3.5 inches and the plaiting edge finished off with the turned-down dextral and cut-off sinistral technique. (See fig. 117.) The plaiting is continued around the end, when the mat is turned and the other layer of narrow wefts plaited. The two page 224layers of smaller twilled-two plaiting is continuous at either end of the long edge. When completed, the free edge is folded in for a depth of 1.25 inches and thus concealed between the two layers of plaiting. The long, commencing edge is then dealt with similarly. (See Plate XVII, B, 1.)

In Plate XVII, B, 3, single element wefts of two differently colored fala materials were used, the darker color forming the dextrals and the lighter, the sinistrals. The commencing edge was again one of the long edges and new wefts were added at the side edges. With the two colors, which were not dyed, a geometrical design was worked in twill with combinations of four wefts and then spaced with lines of check forming square boundaries. All the edges were then finished off with the tucked down sinistral edge. (See fig. 118 d.) Owing to the use of single element wefts, only one surface could be used as the upper surface.

In Plate XVII, B, 2, double wefts in two natural colors were used and differ in arrangement from the previous mat, in having the alternate wefts, both dextral and sinistral, of one color. The commencement was again at one of the long edges. The side edges were formed by the simple half turn, without interlocking. Here, owing to the double wefts having the bright surface outwards, the reversal of surface by the half turns at the side edges made no difference in appearance.

Figure 121.—Baby mat (fala), open slit ornamentation:

Figure 121.—Baby mat (fala), open slit ornamentation:

a, a shed has been prepared for the sinistral (1) and if placed in the usual technique, it would be crossed by the working dextral (2); b, instead, however, of the dextral (2) crossing over the working sinistral (1), they exchange functions by each taking a half turn. The dextral (2) takes the position and function of the sinistral (1) and the sinistral by its half turn becomes a dextral and takes the position and function of the dextral (2). c, The shed is prepared for the next sinistral (3) and when it is in position and covered, the vertical slit between the half turns of the wefts (1) and (2) is fixed; d, the technique is continued with every alternate sinistral and every alternate working dextral at the working edge with the result shown.

The body was plaited throughout in check but so arranged that the two colors were worked into single weft oblique lines arranged to form squares. About an inch from each long edge, a series of narrow open slits were formed by giving two wefts about to cross, a half turn to deflect them away from each other. (See fig. 121.)

The finish of each long edge is by the two-side three-ply braid of permanent food platters. (See figs. 95 and 96.)

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In each of the three mats, a different technique has been followed in the plaiting of the body, and the finish of the long and short edges. These small mats are a distinct type created for a specific use and must not be confounded with samplers made for tourists.