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Samoan Material Culture

Twines, cords, and ropes

Twines, cords, and ropes


The plants which supply material for cordage are the fau or fau tu (Hibiscus tiliaceus), fau songa or fau olonga (Pipturus propinquus), mati or matiata (Ficus sp.), and the coconut. The bast of the breadfruit (Artocarpus incisa) is used for a particular net and sometimes the bast of the paper mulberry. Except the coconut, the inner bark or bast of the plants is used. It readily splits off from the outer bark and for finer lines, it is scraped on a board with a shell to remove the coloring matter and mucilaginous material.

The fau grows practically everywhere and supplies the material for ordinary ropes. The whole bark is used in wide strips for tying scaffolding and in narrower strips for other minor purposes, such as tying baskets. For common everyday use the fau is invaluable.

The fau songa is called fau olonga in Manua. In olonga, Manua retains the widespread Polynesian name given to various plants that supply the bast material for lines and cords. Stronger than fau tu, it does not grow in such quantity and the better fibre is thus restricted to finer cords. After being scraped it is usually braided together (Pl. XVIII, C, 1) and rendered whiter by soaking in sea water, rubbing in sand, and bleaching in the sun. The extra labor in getting sufficient quantity prevents its being used to make ropes.

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The matiata supplies strong fibre in the bast of the long, slender rods which characterise the plant, and is used as cordage for shark nets.

The coconut supplies strong fibres in the husk surrounding the fruit. The large quantity of interfibrous material is separated by a special process. The much-used three-ply braid is made from it as are also the strong ropes.

The fau supplies the material for ordinary rough use, fau songa, the strong lines and cords not requiring too much in the way of quantity, while, for quantity and strength, coconut husk fibre supplies the 'afa braid and strong ropes.


The term "plaiting" has been used so much with cordage that, as a general term, it need not confuse us. There are, however, two distinct methods: twisting and braiding. Twisting again is divided into two forms of technique according to whether the quantity of material used is small or large. For cords and lines, the plies of the cord are twisted around each other on the bare thigh, which process is termed milo. Here milo refers to both twisting the individual strands or plies separately and then over one another. The one follows the other as a matter of course. In rolling coconut fibre together on the bare thigh, the process stops short at the rolling of the individual strands. They are afterwards braided. The term milo could not be applied, so the term fa'ata'a is used. In twisted cords and twisted ropes of coconut fibre, the twisting of each ply separately and then over each other was done by hand, the milo process on the thigh being unsuitable or impossible. In Tutuila, this process was called lafo, though Pratt does not give that meaning.

To twist plies over and under each other, as in braiding, is termed fili. Three-ply sennit braid has received the specific name of 'afa (cf. kaha and 'aha) but it may be further distinguished as 'afa fili-tolu (tolu, three). In braiding, some confusion in terms appears to exist as to cordage with more than three plies. There is no trouble as to the number, which is simply mentioned in the name. The lack of clarity is in the use of the terms tua (fold) and langa as in 'afa tua lima and 'afa langa lima. As langa seems to be derived from lalanga (to plait a basket or mat), it probably refers to a braid made with the technique of check plaiting, where each ply passes over one and under one, whereas tua would refer to the braids made like three ply braid, but where the outside ply crossing over to the middle position may cross over more than one ply. Thus the round four-ply braid is an 'afa langa fa (fa, four) whilst the five-ply braid seen in use is an 'afa tua lima (lima, five). All sennit cords and braids are called 'afa with a qualifying word. When 'afa is used alone, a three-ply braid is meant. The two-ply twist is also loosely called 'afa fili lua, which is not the correct usage of fili.

Threads, or fine cords are termed manoa, fine lines, ta'a and ordinary fish-page 233ing lines, afo. A rope is maea and its strands fu'a. The word taura used in the Maori and Cook Islands dialects for a rope, means an anchor in the Samoan form of taula. The term maea in Maori means to come to the surface of the water but has not retained that meaning in Samoan. The Maori word for anchor is punga which in Samoan is restricted to larger lumps of coral. Archdeacon Williams, in conversation, suggested that the Maori named his anchor from the material punga and displaced the term taura (taula) to the rope which brought it up. The Samoan restricted punga to the coral, kept taula for the anchor and used maea for the rope which caused the anchor to come up to the surface.

Threads or fine cords

The finer threads (manoa) seen in use were two-ply twists of fau songa, used for the finer lashings of fish hooks, headdresses, squid lines, and supporting red feathers.

Twisted cords

Two-ply twisted cords were usually made of fau songa by the milo process on the bare thigh. The plies were lengthened by adding a fresh strand of material to the shortening ply with an overlap and then rolling them together on the bare thigh before rolling the two plies round each other. The specimen figured (Plate XVIII, C, 2) was made for a small fishing net. The cord has not been used in water and the material is between ecru-olive and buffyolive in color.

Two-ply twisted cords of breadfruit bast were seen in a special type of seine net at Leauvaa in Upolu but had, however, been made at Safune in Savaii. The younger shoots of the variety of breadfruit known as 'ulu manu'a were used. The bast was scraped on a board in the same way as in preparing paper mulberry bast for bark cloth. The cords were fairly thick but varied in different parts of the net.

Sennit two-ply cord

A fine cord (Plate XX, B, 1) not quite 2 mm. in diameter was used for such purposes as tying stone sinkers to nets. The two plies could be rubbed together on the bare thigh by the milo process but owing to the rough nature of the sennit, it was usually made by twisting the plies with the hands and plaiting towards the body as in ropes, the commencing end being fixed to a post or stake. The fresh strands are usually joined to the shortening ply by simply overlapping the ends.

A coarser two-ply is made by strands rolled together with a binding fibre (fa'ata'a) such as are used in three-ply braid. Besides the simple join by direct overlapping, two other methods are used. (See figures 125, 126.) In page 234both the above figures, the doubling over of the new element is shown passing transversely over the twist. In the actual cord they are hardly distinguishable.

Figure 125.—Two-ply cord, joining ply (so'o):

Figure 125.—Two-ply cord, joining ply (so'o):

a, the ply (2) is the shortening ply; b, the new strand (3) is directly laid over the short ply (2) from below with its short end (3') projecting upwards past the point of joining; c, the other ply (1) is twisted around over the reinforced ply (2); d, the projecting upper short end (3') is doubled down over the other ply (1); e, the twisting is carried on and both the short end (3') of the new strand, and the short ply (2) is buried so to speak in the twists, while the new strand (3) continues the ply (2).

Figure 126.—Two-ply cord, alternate join:

Figure 126.—Two-ply cord, alternate join:

a, the alternative method is exactly the same in result but the opposite in commencement technique. The ply (2) is again the shortening ply. b, The new strand (3) is added from above with its short end (3') on the long ply (1); c, the ply (1) with the short end (3') is twisted over the short ply (2); d, the long end of the new strand (3) is doubled down over the short strand (2); e, the twisting is carried on with the same results as in figure 125.

Three-ply twisted cords

Two kinds of three-ply cords are made from the fau songa and from matiata: a, the ta'a cord made of fau songa is used for the fine lines with the trolling hooks known as pa ala, the thicker lines with the bonito hooks (pa'atu) and for rod fishing inside the reef (seuseu). (See Plate XVIII, C, 3, 4, 5) The three plies are rolled together by the milo process on the bare thigh. New strands are added by direct overlapping on the shortening ply and rolling on the thigh. The fau songa cords, after use in water have a typical pale neutral gray color. b, The name given to the three-ply cord made of matiata bast by a Tau man who demonstrated the plaiting was fatu a fau. The bast was split off from the epidermis, scraped, and dried in the sun.

Milo process. The bast was divided into appropriate thicknesses and rolled separately on the thigh into strands. Three strands were held between the left forefinger and thumb in such a way that they are slightly spaced apart. Still holding them firmly, they were laid transversely over the right thigh. The right palm towards the base of the fingers was laid over the three page 235strands and rolled them firmly downwards or away from the body. The first part of the movement rolled each strand firmly on itself into three separate twisted strands during the outward movement, the right palm having worked over the strands to near the wrist. The left hand slacked slightly and the last part of the movement twisted the three strands over each other into a threeply cord. At the end of the outward sweep, the palm was turned over on its ulnar or outer edge and returned towards the body with a firmer pressure that twists the plies more closely together in the twist already commenced. A few loose twists at the end of the backward roll were' untwisted and the left hand shifted down to hold the end of the section that was firmly twisted. The three plies were separated and held thus whilst an outward and backward sweep completed another short section of the three-ply twist. By these short sections, the length required was obtained.

The join in this thickness of three-ply was made by the doubling over method with the new strand added from below (fig. 125), but owing to the milo technique being used a slight difference exists as shown in figure 127.

Figure 127.—Three-ply twisted cord, join:

Figure 127.—Three-ply twisted cord, join:

a, ply (1) is the shortening ply; b, the new strand (4) is placed over the short ply (1) from below with its short end (4') projecting upwards beyond the point of joining; c, the three plies are held apart by the left hand on the thigh, while the right hand rolls the new strand (4) and the short ply (1) together. The short end (4') of the new ply is then turned down on the next ply (2); d, the ply (2) and the short end (4') are rolled together on the thigh. To complete the rolling, the ply (3) is also rolled separately; e, the three strands are rolled as in the usual milo technique. In well-made cord, the join (5) can hardly be seen.

The matiata three-ply twist (Plate XVIII, C, 7) is 3 mm. in diameter. The extra thickness gave the cord the strength needed for making shark nets which were anchored off the reef.

Sennit three-ply braid

Sennit braid ('afa) is the most important single article in Samoan material culture. The quantity used is so great that even in the present period men use much of their spare waking hours in plaiting it. All the actual details of its preparation are thus readily available.

The coconut (niu) used is the special large variety known as niu 'afa (the sennit coconut). The fruit is about 13 inches long, the husk thick, and the contained nut comparatively small. (See Plate XVIII, B, 1.) The phrase applied to it, fete pulu (swollen husk), has come to be used for anything large with little in it. Other nuts used were as follows: niu ui, with a very page 236white fibre (pa'e pa'e); niu alava, with a medium colored fibre; niu malo, with a reddish fibre (mūmū). When niu 'afa can not be obtained, ordinary nuts, (niu sasa) are used. The niu 'afa is roughly triangular in cross section. The fibres within the husk run longitudinally with the long axis of the nut. The husk is, therefore, prized off in longitudinal sections. (See Plate XVIII, B, 2 and 3.) The sections corresponding with the convexities, or rounded angles of the cross section, contain longer and better fibre, and the sections are termed matai'a. The intervening sections between the three matai'a have shorter fibres and the sections are called lafalafa.

The husk of the green nut (mumu'a) or the mature nut (popo) were alike used. The outer skin of the husk is termed tua pulu, the fibres mm 'a'a, and the interfibrous material tae.

Treatment of husk. The husk is removed in even, longitudinal segments with a mele'i husking stake. The object is to separate the interfibrous material from the fibre. The husks of some kinds of nuts, such as the niu ui, may be beaten at once, but most of them, including the niu 'afa, require soaking in water to soften the interfibrous material. The green husks from mumu'a nuts require only 4 or 5 days soaking, but the mature husk of the popo requires much longer—three weeks to two or more months. Long soaking does not deteriorate the fibre but, according to the Samoans, rather improves it in strength and lasting qualities. The segments are collected in a coconut leaflet basket, submerged in a pool inside the reef, and weighted down with stones. The submerged basket of husk is termed taomanga. After the minimum time of soaking has elapsed, the number of segments required for use are extracted from the taomanga and the rest left in the water for future use.

Beating the husk (sasa pulu). The inter fibrous material is removed by beating the husk sections, also called pulu, on a wooden anvil with a wooden mallet.

The anvil is termed malaise, but in Tutuila, tu'itu'i. An ordinary log or a rock may be used as a makeshift anvil, but every family usually has a well made anvil cut out of a section of coconut wood. They are thus circular in shape with a flat upper surface and usually four but sometimes three, legs. (See Plate XVIII, B, 4.) The legs are cut out of the solid with the anvil and their outer surface is continuous with the outer surface of the anvil. The under surface is not usually horizontal, but slopes downwards and inwards from the circumference to a central point. The lower end of the legs may be square or come to a blunt point. The anvils vary in size with the taste of the maker, but the circumferential legs are a constant feature.

The mallet (sa'afa) is an ordinary straight piece of heavy wood, round in section and with one end trimmed down into a handle. No particular care page 237is devoted to their manufacture. They vary considerably, however, in length and thickness. The beating end is smooth. (See Plate XVIII, B, 5.)

The outer skin (tua pulu) is readily pealed off and the inner short part of the soaked segment torn off and discarded. Holding one end of the segment with one hand, the other part is beaten on the anvil with the beater, the left hand every now and again turning the segment. The interfibrous material flies off under the blows of the mallet whilst that which does not is loosened and flicked off after every few blows. The ends are reversed and the sasa process of beating continued until only the cleaned fibres remain. The interfibrous material has a vile odor which is painfully evident whilst husk beating is going on. Each segment is beaten separately and tied at one end with one of the fibres to keep them distinct, and is called a mato fi. (See Plate XVIII, B, 6.) If water is available, the mato fi may be washed to assist in removing the smell as well as any particles of interfibrous material. They are then thrown up on the thatch of a roof and left exposed to sun and air to dry and also to complete the removal of the odor. Immediately after beating, the fibre has a beautiful, silky, yellow color, but this changes after exposure to the usual sennit brown. As already pointed out, some fibre has a natural deeper brown or reddish color. The mato fi may be left out on the roof for some days.

Rolling the strands (fa'ata'a). The first part in the braiding process consists of rolling the prepared fibre into suitable strands (fa'ata'a). The braider sits down crosslegged in the house with a matofi bundle beside him. From it he pulls out a number of fibres sufficient for one strand. The very short fibres (fungafunga) are separated from the good fibres, which retain the name of mui'a'a, and discarded. The little bunch of mui'a'a is held by the left thumb and forefinger whilst some of the fibres are pulled out slightly at each end, not only to lengthen the strand, but to thin the ends for joining purposes. A single fibre is separated, its middle placed against the strand, and one end twisted round it by the right hand. The other end of the single fibre is then doubled back and the strand twirled between the finger and thumb to finish the rolling of the binding fibre. The strand is next rolled on the bare thigh with the right palm. The rolling of two or three strands of other material to form a twisted cord has been described as milo. The rolling of the single strands of coconut fibre is termed fa'ata'a and the resulting strand is fa'ata'a. Here we have the causative fa'a combined with ta'a (a line), meaning to make as a line. The rolled fa'ata'a is laid down beside the worker and the process goes on until a sufficient quantity has been made. When work ceases, the fa'ata'a are bundled together and tied round the middle with a single fibre. (See Plate XIX, A, 2.) As the heap of rolled strands mounts up, so do the discarded short pieces (fungafunga) collect on the mat. Hence page 238the proverb of separating worthless things from things of value: "Ia auese le fungafunga, 'ae tu'u ai le mui'a'a" (Discard the useless short fibres, but keep the good fibre).

Plaiting. A sufficient number of fa'ata'a having been rolled, plaiting (fili) commences. In plaiting 'afa braid, which is not very thick, the plies are held between the left thumb and forefinger with the thumb uppermost and plaiting is directed away from the body. The technique thus consists of pulling whatever strand is in the middle position outwards under a side ply; first on one side, and then on the other. Whilst the right hand pulls the middle ply outwards under, the left thumb rolls the side ply over into the middle position. The left thumb also, by pressure down on the left forefinger, keeps the plies in their relative positions after each twist is made. The plaited part, therefore, passes backward under the thumb towards the body. It is just the free edge of the braiding that protrudes beyond the thumb, but in this and following figures, the thumb is shown well back so as not to obscure the technique. (See figure 128.)

Figure 128.—Three-ply sennit braid, plait technique:

Figure 128.—Three-ply sennit braid, plait technique:

a, each ply is formed by a single fa'ata'a strand of which there are three; b, the middle ply (1) is pulled outwards by the right hand, under the left ply (2), which brings the ply (2) into the middle position; c, the middle ply (2) is pulled outwards under the right ply (3) which brings (3) to the middle position; d, the middle ply (3) is pulled outwards to the left under the left ply (1); e, the continuation of the above results as shown.

When the fa'ata'a rolled strand is added and becomes an actual ply of the plaited braid, it is called an anga. Hence anyone asking the number of plies in a braid, says, "Pe fia le malosi o lau 'afa?" (What is the number of the strength of your braid?). The reply comes, "E tolu anga" (Three plies) ! Another name for the ply is tafua. Some braids have more than three plies. "Ply" is therefore used here to correspond with anga, which leaves "strand" clear for material or fresh additions and corresponds to fa'ata'a. Thus, a new strand is added to a shortening ply and once incorporated with it after the join, is included in, and becomes, the ply.

The join (so'onga). A fresh fa'ata'a strand is added to a shortening ply in much the same way as in a twisted cord. The rule is to bring the short ply into the middle position and add the new strand to it with its short end projecting back on the completed work where it is held under the left thumb. figure 129 shows the process, but in actual practice the thumb keeps just behind the working edge and the completed braid works backward under it.

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As the braiding proceeds, the fingers naturally feel the thickness of the plies. If one is felt to be too thin and thus likely to spoil the evenness of the braid, it is reinforced with a fresh strand added in a manner opposite to that of the join above. (See figure 130.)

Figure 129.—Three-ply sennit braid, join of ply:

Figure 129.—Three-ply sennit braid, join of ply:

a, the short ply (1) has been worked to the middle position; b, the new strand (4) is added to the short ply (1) with its short end (4') projecting back on the completed work; c, the middle ply (1 and 4) is pulled out to the right under the side ply (2) which conies to the middle position; d, the ply (2) is pulled out to the left under the side ply (3) when (3) comes to the middle position, the short end. (4') of the new strand (4) is doubled forward on (3); e, the braiding goes on in the usual way and only the doubled over short end (5) is seen in the middle line.

The principle of reinforcing a thin ply is to add a new strand from below with its short end on a long ply in the middle position. A couple of turns are made to bring the thin ply into the middle position, when the long end of the new strand is doubled forward to join it.

Figure 130.—Three-ply sennit braid, reinforcing thin ply:

Figure 130.—Three-ply sennit braid, reinforcing thin ply:

a, the ply (3) is too thin and needs reinforcing; b, the new strand (4) is added from below to the ply (1) which is in the middle position. The short end (4') of the new strand rests on (1) while the long end (4) is directed back on the braid. c, The middle ply (1) with the short end (4') is pulled outwards to the right under the side ply (2). After (2) comes into the middle position, it is pulled outwards to the left under the side ply (3) which comes to the middle" position. d, The middle ply (3) is the one that needs reinforcing. The reinforcing element (4) is therefore doubled forward on (3) and everything is ready to continue the ordinary braiding. e, The braiding is continued, (3 and 4) being treated as one ply. The only part of the join seen is the doubled over new strand at (5) in the middle line.

The braiding goes on until the required length is reached. When the supply of rolled strands is used up, the end of the braid is stoppered by rolling the three plies together on the bare thigh with the right hand or by tying the two outer piles together in the first part of a reef knot. A fresh supply of strands is then rolled from the fibers of the mato fi hank and the braiding continued from where it ended.

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At the end of a sitting, the worker measures the braid by holding one end with the left hand and running it through the right as he stretches the arms to full length. The full arm span is called a ngafa. The right hand holds the farthest point of the first span and draws it into the left hand which seizes the point. The second span is run through and so on until the number of spans or ngafa are counted. To lay by as reserve stock, lengths of one hundred ngafa are plaited.

The ordinary three-ply braid described above is used for lashing houses, canoes, and for general purposes. The braid looks loosely made and close inspection reveals two technical details which prevent a neat appearance: 1, the transverse turns of the fibres fixing the individual strands (fa'ata'a) show up on the plies of the braid; 2, the overlap of the strand joins (so'onga) can be detected. Quickness in manufacture and efficiency in use are, however, the guiding principles in the braiding of this type. The first detail keeps the plies of the strands together and assists quick work in braiding, and the second strengthens the braid which is subjected to firm pulling as it is applied. The average three-ply braid is shown in Plate XX, B, 3; a thicker braid in Plate XX, B, 4.

A neater braid, though smaller (Pl. XX, B, 2) half the size of the average type, is made by rolling the strands on the bare thigh without the addition of a transverse binding fibre, and omitting the doubled-over join. (See fig. 131.)

Figure 131.—Three-ply sennit braid, simple join:

Figure 131.—Three-ply sennit braid, simple join:

a, the shortening ply (1) is worked to the middle position; b, the new strand (4) is added from above to the short ply (1) with its short end (4') projecting slightly backwards; c, the reinforced middle ply is pulled out to the right under the side ply (2); d, the braiding is continued in the usual way and only the tuft of the short end (4') is left projecting in the middle line from under the short ply (1) which was twisted over it in (c); e, the short end (4') is afterwards trimmed off.

The join. The simple overlap and rolling together on the bare thigh with fau songa is not suitable with sennit fibre owing to the stiffness of the material.

The method of joining in fine braids consists, therefore, of bringing the short ply to the middle position and adding the new strand from above with the slightest projection backwards of the short end. The braiding is continued and the short ends in the middle line subsequently trimmed off short. There is thus no overlap to be seen and only the closest scrutiny reveals the cut off ends of the fibres. The same applies to the ends of the short plies. If some of these fibres stick out, they are also trimmed off. It can now be understood that page 241the extra care and trimming makes the process of braiding slower and is not so suitable for preparing the hundreds of fathoms required for house building.

When the work has not proceeded far, small coils are made on the palm by winding the turns round the thumb and little finger. The coil is removed, pressed together at the middle and bound by passing the working end round it in a couple of half hitches. When the length of braid is too great for this method, it may be coiled round both thighs with the knees diverged as the man sits cross legged on the ground. A third way is to collect the braid in long loops of one span each as the plaiter measures his work. The end of the braid is tied around one part of the circumference of the coil. On recommencing plaiting, the working end is unloosed but the coil kept intact by tying some fibres around it. If a man forgets the length he simply counts the number of the complete turns in the coil which are each a fathom in length. (See Plate XIX, B, 2.)

The working material consists of the matofi hanks of fibre, a bundle of rolled strands (fa'ata'a), and the coil of sennit braid ('afa) that is being plaited. Combined, matofi, fa'ata'a, and 'afa constitute what is termed a to'oto'o ali'i (Plate XIX, A, 3) figuratively the staff (to'oto'o) of a chief (ali'i). As they are combined together for one purpose, they are used figuratively to denote unity of purpose in the saying, "E pei o le to'oto'o ali'i lou finangalo" (May your will be as the working material of sennit braid).

The rolled strands not used up at the end of the sitting, together with the matofi hanks, are tied with fibre to the coil or to the working end of the braid so that they will be together and not dropped as the chiefs pay visits and carry their sennit work with them.

Working coil. Carpenters working on a house or a canoe use small coils, (i'o fanga), as they are more convenient to work with than large coils or shorter lengths of loose sennit. The coils are made in two ways: a, by the simple method when the coil is wound on the palm round the thumb and little finger, pressed together to form an end, and, as close as possible, to the end, a few transverse turns are made with one end of the braid and finished off with one or more half hitches (Plate XIX, B, 1); b, by the crossed method when the coil is wound on the palm by diagonal turns round the thumb and little finger, carefully removed, and the first end of the braid located lest it be hidden away by subsequent lashing. The coil which forms a figure-of-eight is doubled at the crossing. The crossed end is closely bound with the outer end of the braid and finished off with a half hitch.

In using the coil, the first, or inner, end is pulled out and tied to the object with the running noose commencement or buried under overlapping turns. As the turns of the binding are made, the braid pulls out of the interior of the coil. The coil is easily handled and may be thrown over horizontals when page 242its weight brings it down to where it is required. The slack is thus kept coiled up and prevents tangling and confusion in the various turns of the lashing.

The making of these working coils is part of the duty of the house owner whilst the building is going on. I saw Misa at Ofu, sitting chatting with the old carpenters in the carpenter's shed, automatically coiling the working hanks from a large coil of a hundred fathoms or more. He went on coiling a continuous series of small hanks which were afterwards separated by cutting or snapping the braid between.

The crossed method gives a shorter more compact hank. It is used nowadays with the very long imported lines used in deep sea fishing. In forming the coil, the line is wound diagonally over the two knees for its full length. The inner end is pulled out and the hooks and sinker attached to it. The line is then payed out until it touches bottom and the extra line remains coiled. The coil is called i'o fanga (from i'o, coil, and fanga, to pull out).

Permanent coils are those made to be stored away for future use. Each householder plaits continually in his spare time to lay up a reserve stock. The coils are then wrapped up in mats or baskets as a ta'ui bundle and stored on the fata shelves of the house. No one would think of plaiting sennit only when immediately needed. The permanent coils form part of the household property and wealth. The different forms of coils are as follows:

Loose coils (fanganga). The ordinary coil in fathom loops is used for shorter lengths in small tasks. (See Plate XIX, B, 2.) They save the necessity of breaking into the longer coils and thus spoiling them. They are also useful for satisfying people who come to borrow, and thus saving the larger coils which are kept concealed in their wrapping.

Ball ('afa tangai). The sennit is wound around a stick or some folded lengths of bark cloth into a round ball. Synonymous with tangai is ta'ai, to wind round.

Ornamented ball ('afa fa'aulu po'o, or afa manu lapotopoto). A ball is coiled to form a regular geometrical design on its surface. Some longitudinal lengths are first folded and the braid wound round the middle part to commence the ball. In the second name, manu means the sennit design and lapotopoto, globular. One of the longitudinal turns is usually prolonged to form a loop by which the ball may be hung up.

Cylindrical coil ('afa mamanu, or 'afa manu fa'aso'a). The cylindrical coil is the best and commonest form for a large quantity of sennit. (See figure 132.) In the name 'afa mamanu, we again have the geometrical design (manu), whilst in manu fa'aso'a, besides the manu design, attention is drawn to the cylindrical shape which resembles the collar beams (so'a) of a house.

The coil figured in Plate XIX, B, 3, shows the appearance, but some coils are much larger than this. It can thus be readily realized why the house-page 243holder had a shorter looser coil of the 'afa tanganga type to give away to borrowers to save his more elaborate 'afa many fa'aso'a.

The method of coiling (fig. 132) has been adopted by higher cultures for commercial purposes in coiling string. A piece of cardboard curved into a cylinder or truncated cone, takes the place of the longitudinal folds of sennit and in the example examined the ascending spiral turns were laid along the upper side of the preceding turns and the descending turns followed on the lower side of the preceding turns.

Figure 132.—Sennit coil technique ('afa mamanu):

Figure 132.—Sennit coil technique ('afa mamanu):

a, a coil is made which when flattened out will be the desired length of the cylindrical coil; b, the end of the braid (1) from the coil (a) is wound transversely around the coil to form the basis of the cylinder with the free end (1) ending at the bottom; c, from the mid-front (2) at the lower end of the surface facing the coiler, the braid is turned up at an angle of about 45° and wound spirally around the cylinder until it reaches the top edge at (3); d, the braid is turned down at right angles to its previous course and wound spirally around the cylinder in the opposite direction as shown by the arrows. On arriving at the lower end, it crosses over the commencement of the ascending spiral at (2) to reach the edge. It is then turned upwards to follow the ascending spiral on its lower side. e, The second ascending spiral turn reaches the upper edge at (4) where it crosses the commencement of the descending spiral from the turn (3). The braid is turned down from the edge at (4) and follows the descending spiral on its upper side until it reaches the lower edge at (5) when it is turned upwards to follow on the lower side of the previous ascending spiral turn. f, The technique is now established. The ascending turns follow on the lower side of the previous ascending turns, are turned at the upper edge to descend on the upper side of the previous descending turn, and at the lower edge change direction to ascend again on the under side of the previous ascending turn. The technique is continued until the whole surface is covered. Care must be taken to bring each turn to the edge so that an even upper and lower edge is maintained. Each subsequent turn fixes the preceding one. As one complete layer of spiral turns is formed, the winding simply continues. The geometrical pattern develops itself and the triangular figures show up in the actual coil better than in the figure, owing to the standing out of the overlapping last layer.

In addition to the types of coils, sennit braid may be simply wrapped up in a mat without elaborate coiling. Old sennit removed from dismantled houses was so treated and stored on the fata shelves. It was then called a ta'ui 'afa from being bundled in a mat to form a ta'ui. If merely put in a basket, it is termed 'ato 'afa (basket of sennit braid).

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Four-ply round sennit

A four-ply round plait seen at Asau was used in a fishing line and besides being called by the descriptive name of 'afa langa fa (sennit of four plaits) was locally referred to as fili anufe from its roundness resembling a worm or caterpillar (anufe). (See Plate XX, B, 5.) Many Samoans seem to have forgotten the four-ply plait.

The technique is really a check plait on the round. The rolling of fibres into strands and the joins are the same as in the neater three-ply braids. (See figure 133.)

Figure 133.—Four-ply round braid (fili anufe):

Figure 133.—Four-ply round braid (fili anufe):

a, two plies (1 and 2) are crossed (2) coming from the left being crossed above (1); b, a third-ply (3) is brought from the right and crossed over the nearer weft (2); c, a fourth ply (4) is brought in from the opposite side (left) passing under the outside ply (1) and over the nearer ply (3), as if making a check plait. The principle may now be stated. The outside ply of alternate sides is brought around the back in the opposite direction to the last ply that came in. It passes under the outermost ply on its incoming side and passes over the near ply of the remaining pair. d, The outside ply (1) on the left (c) is turned around the back to the right, passes under the outside ply (2) and over the nearer ply (4) of the remaining pair. e, The outside ply (2) on the right (see d) is turned round the back to the left, passes under the outer ply (3) and over the nearer ply (1) of the remaining pair. f, The next movement will be with the ply (3). By alternately passing to either side, the round plait is continued as shown.

Four-ply braid

Another four-ply braid ('afa tua fa) is made by fixing one end and working towards the body, as it is easier with this technique to take the outside plies and work them over to the middle. A four-ply resembles a three-ply braid except that on one side, the outer ply passes over one ply to the middle whilst on the other side, the outer ply passes over two plies. (See figure 134.)

Five-ply braid

Five-ply sennit braid ('afa tua lima) is made for hand trolling lines and other purposes where fine braid is needed. Some braids are thin and finely made (Plate XX, B, 6), others thicker and stronger (Plate XX, B, 7). The technique is again similar to that used in making three-ply, except that the outer ply from either side crosses two plies, instead of one, in passing over to the middle position. (See figure 135.)

A five-ply braid made from fau songa is shown in Plate XVIII, C, 6. The specimen figured is reported from Samoa but I did not see any in use. page 245In Tonga this type of thicker braid is used with the trolling hooks which are larger than bonito hooks. In Samoa, large trolling hooks (fa tangi) were used and it is presumed that the fau songa braid was used with them. Five-ply braids are thicker at the sides than in the middle.

Figure 134.—Four-ply braid:

Figure 134.—Four-ply braid:

a, ply (2) is crossed over (1) and ply (3) coming in from the right crosses over (2); b, a fourth ply (4) is crossed over from the left; c, the outside ply on the right (2) is crossed to the middle by passing over ply 4; d, the outside ply (1) is crossed over the two plies (3 and 2) to the middle. This establishes the technique. The outside ply on the right crosses over one ply to the middle while the outside ply on the left crosses over two plies. This is done alternately. e, The continuation results in the appearance shown. The appearance is very like three-ply braid except that on one side the braid is slightly wider from the mesial crossings owing to the elements crossing two plies. The middle position has been referred to and while not strictly accurate, the sense is obvious.


Two-ply twist (maea fu'a lua). Rough ropes of fau bast are quickly made. Little attention is paid to straggly ends. (See Plate XX, A, 1.) New strands are added by doubling down the short end on the other ply as in the sennit two-ply cord. The joins are easily detected from the wide strip of bast showing the change of direction where they cross to the other ply. No extra scraping is devoted to the material. The individual plies are twisted to the right and then crossed over the other ply from above downwards and to the left.

Figure 135.—Five-ply braid:

Figure 135.—Five-ply braid:

a, three plies are shown as in commencing a three-ply braid where 3 comes in from the right; b, four plies are shown as in four-ply braid where the last one (4) comes in from the other side on the left; c, a fifth ply (5) is now added of necessity from the right and it crosses over the two plies (2 and 4). The plies are now set up for braiding. d, As the three plies in (c) are on the left, the outside ply on the left (1) is crossed over the other two (3 and 5) to the middle position; e, the three plies in (d) are on the right. The outside ply on the right (2) is crossed over the other two (4 and 1) to the middle position. f, The alternate crossing of the outside ply of three to the middle position results in the development of the braid.

A better rope is made by scraping the bast more thoroughly and plaiting with a tighter twist. (See Plate XX, A, 2.) The new strands are added by page 246overlapping on one ply and twisting them together without doubling the short end over on the other ply. The particular rope figured had been soaked in a yellow solution evidently of turmeric root.

The better two-ply ropes were used in the house as lines between the walls on which to suspend dividing curtains or mosquito curtains. In Tutuila, the term for twisting the plies together was given as lafo to distinguish it from the milo and fili processes.

Three-ply braid (maea fili tolu). A fairly thick three-ply braid rope is made from fibre in the same way as three-ply 'af a except that the end is tied to a stake or coiled round the big toe. The plaiting is therefore towards the body and the outside plies are brought over the middle ply to take its position. Thicker strands of fa'ata'a are rolled to the size required for a ply. The simple overlapping join is used in adding new strands as well as the doubled over join. A rope seen in the plaiting process in Savaii was for the purpose of making a trap to catch wild pigs.

Three-ply twisted ropes. Three-ply twisted ropes were stated not to have been made of fau bast. In the Cook Islands, three-ply twisted ropes of this material (fau) were regarded as the strongest ropes and, in their mythology, was the type of rope used by Maui in snaring the sun. In Samoa, when extra strength was required, the material used was coconut fibre.

A three-ply twisted rope now in common use in Samoa (Plate XX, A, 3) is, however, of foreign make and material but is shown as it is now used in making the shark nooses still in common use.

Shark rope. The proper Samoan shark rope (maea noa malie) is a three-ply twisted rope in which each ply is formed of a number of strands of the common three-ply braid ('afa). Ripley of Leone stated that as many as nine strands were used in each ply. Five fathoms of untwisted sennit braid will make 4.25 fathoms of rope. Half the total number of strands required, but of twice the length, are doubled at the middle. A space is left at the looped end to form the eye for a loop and a stick is passed through. The stick is suspended and lashed against a beam, so that it will not rotate. The strands are lashed together with a piece of cord beneath the stick. The strands are divided into three equal parts to form plies. Each ply thus formed is taken charge of by an assistant who ties a short cross stick to the lower end of his ply. The chief rope maker uses a mature, dry, unhusked coconut (popo) with three longitudinal grooves cut to correspond with the plies. This is inserted under the plies close to the upper binding around the strands. The three assistants then twist their sticks in the same direction so as to twist the strands of their respective plies. As the plies become closely twisted, they are allowed to twist around each other to form the rope. The chief rope maker manipulates the coconut husk gage by moving it downwards as the assistants walk around in page 247the same direction. The process is continued until the rope is completed. The three-ply twist makes a very strong rope that will hold any shark. The further treatment to form a noose is dealt with on page 422.

Three-ply composite braid ('afa'afalua). A composite three-ply braid rope is made of a number of strands of ordinary three-ply braid. One rope in Bishop Museum contains three strands in each ply; another, Plate XX, A, 4, started with three, four, and five strands, but finished with four strands in each ply.

In these ropes, the old braid from dismantled houses was used over again. Short lengths could thus be economically used and as a particular strand in a ply shortened, a fresh piece was added by doubling over the short end in another ply. The rope, therefore, looked somewhat untidy, but was very strong. These ropes are used in lashing houses during heavy storms of wind.

Five-ply braid rope (maea tua lima). The five-ply braid rope (Plate XX, A, 5) is made in the same way as the five-ply braid illustrated in figure 135. The strands of coconut fibre are not rolled with individual binding fibres and the joins are by the simple overlapping of ends on the one ply. The rope besides being very strong is neat in appearance and finish. These ropes were seen in use as the bottom rope of large nets and the line for shark bait floats.

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.

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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.