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Samoan Material Culture

Plaiting customs

Plaiting customs

Plaiting is essentially a woman's craft and women plaited everything descibed except—according to my Fitiuta informant—the breadfruit cover (pulou 'ulu). Males, however, plaited certain articles without lowering their sex status. The articles plaited by men, in addition to the special breadfruit cover, were the two rough forms of coconut leaf basket ('ato) the coconut leaf thatch sheet, and the ridge sheet, the reason being that it was convenient for them to do so. The 'ato fil tasi and its later variant the 'ato fili tolu were both used by men to carry food from the plantations on a carrying pole. When no women were about, it was easier for them to cut a leaf from a neighboring palm and make a basket for themselves in a few minutes than to seek out a woman and so waste time. The basket and the pole belonged to men whilst the women more commonly used the carrying sheet strapped to the back. The young men did the cooking and it was convenient for them to plait the basket now termed 'ato fu'e umu to carry the cooked food from the oven to the dwelling or guest house.

House building was a male craft and it was convenient for men to plait the coconut leaf thatch sheet and the ridging sheet. They were often called upon to make them for emergency shelters. The making of the more tedious sugar cane leaf sheets they left, however, entirely to women. Thus articles likely to crop up in emergency were also plaited by men.

page 248

The fashioning of wall screens, food platters, and fish baskets required more skill and was left to women. The plaiting of the coconut leaf floor mat and all work in pandanus material belonged to women. The line was created by convenience and usage. There were no tapus to prevent men from plaiting other articles besides those mentioned. If they did, however, their own sex would regard them as effeminate or ask if he had no wife or female relatives. The plaiting of all forms of cordage was essentially the task of men.

Plaiting parties. Floor mats to furnish a guest house were sometimes made by a working bee of the unmarried women (aualuma) who congregated in a house which, for the period of working, was termed a fale lalanga (house for plaiting) from its use. The chief for whom the mats were made fed the laborers.

Begging parties. The alternative to the fale lalanga custom of making the mats locally is the tu'u papa, or tu'u fala custom of a chief accompanied by his talking chief and taupou visiting another village and obtaining the required quota by a levy on the various families. (See page 75.)

Braiding sennit. Attention is again drawn to the remarkable persistence of sennit braiding through its having been elevated to a chiefly custom for filling in time whilst making ordinary social visits, or attending meetings and even important fonos held in guest houses. The status of the occupation was recognized by terming the braiding material a chief's staff (to'oto'o ali'i) and incorporating it in the proverb already quoted. In marked contrast to the persistence of three-ply braiding is the rapid disappearance of the technique of other forms of braiding, such as the four-ply round and the five-ply flat. The person from whom the five-ply braid rope was obtained could not tell how it was made. The rope was carried round Savaii and the many older men asked could not supply the information. At last a chief from inland Aopo demonstrated the very simple technique which is merely a variation of three ply. Not the difficulty, but lack of use had caused the technique to be forgotten. If nails ever supersede sennit in Samoan house construction, it will be difficult for the old men to keep awake during their meetings.