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Samoan Material Culture



The term titi as applied to kilts is a reduplication of ti (Cordyline) from the leaves of which the kilt was made. The meaning has broadened out from actual material to the idea of a number of vertical elements suspended from cords tied round the waist. With other material than ti, qualifying words are used. Kilts made of fau and fangai'o bast become titi fau and titi fangai'o. The term titi, by itself, means a kilt of ti, but to make it perfectly clear when speaking of different kinds, it is a titi lauti. Here lau (leaf) is introduced before ti to prevent such an awkward combination as titi ti. The more modern dance ornament of strings of feathers hanging from a waist cord receives the name of titi 'ula, from the red feathers ('ula) which formed the original material.

Kilts may be conveniently grouped into the two classes of titi and 'ie. In all titi, the strips are first attached to a braid or cords which form the waist attachment. Some types may be plaited afterwards. The 'ie commence with the plaiting technique and the waist attachment comes last.

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Kilts of Cordyline leaf (titi lauti). Different varieties of ti are recognized, such as:

Ti fonua or ti vai, with long wide leaves.
Ti tongotongo, with darker leaves and reddish tips.
Ti 'ula, with red leaves.
Ti fangasa.
Ti tonga.
Ti talo.
Ti usi, a bush variety with long narrow leaves.
Ti vao, a bush variety, with short wide leaves.
The first four varieties are those principally used for kilts.

Figure 136.—Cordyline leaf kilt, three-ply braid commencement (fili).

Figure 136.—Cordyline leaf kilt, three-ply braid commencement (fili).

The figure shows the position in actual work. The knotted end of the braid is held between the toes and the butt ends of the leaves are added on the left after the back ply on the left has twisted over the middle position in the braid. Thus, ply (3) has just passed over (2) to the middle. The leaf (4) is placed on the middle ply (3) and the right ply (1) will cross over it to the middle position. The back ply (2) on the left will cross to the middle, and the next leaf will be placed on it. The butt ends of the leaves are incorporated with their respective plies and plaited into the braid as integral parts of the plies. When the kilt formed by adding the leaves is sufficiently wide, the braid is knotted with an overhand knot.

The ti fonua, from the size of its leaves, provided the kilt for everyday wear. It was also used as a wrapping for food to form 'ofu. Hence the connection of 'ofu with the commonest garments as pointed out by Pratt (23, p. 52). Both ti tongotongo and ti fangasa were used for dance kilts owing to their color. The ti'ula was better still and was worn by the village maid and the young chiefs at village festivals. The ti was planted near the village and about the houses. Hence the saying:

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Toto sou ti, toto sou tolo, Plant your Cordyline, plant your sugar cane,
Tatou ta'alolo, ua i'u le fono. Let us dance, the Council meeting is over.

The ti grows in clumps and there are always some leaf heads that can be used. Hence another saying: "E fa'apupu a ti e le ngase" (A clump of ti will not die).

The green, growing leaves are ti usi and those that are turning yellow and have fallen to the ground are ti pala'au. The golden-colored leaves are used to form anklets and armlets or a garland for the head (ti palea).

The base ends of suitable green leaves are pinched through with the thumb nail or cut and this portion with the stalk ('au) removed. The leaves may be plaited whole or split (tosi) with the thumb nail in such a way as to leave them connected together at the base with an unsplit portion.

The commencement of the usual kilt is with a three-ply braid (fili). The braiding may be done with the butt ends of the leaves alone or three strips of fau bast may be knotted and Commence the three-ply braid as in figure 136. The latter is the neater commencement as it provides a cord at the commencement end for tying, though a piece of bast can readily be tied to this end afterwards. The braid connecting the leaves together, serves as the waist band of the kilt. The length to which it is plaited depends on the type of kilt required. The titi lauti fall into two types, the narrow and the wide: a, the narrow kilt (titi fa'ale'a'u) was designed to provide the cover demanded by modesty without unnecessarily concealing the figure. It was practically a narrow apron, used in various dances but especially in the almost naked poula dance at night. By using this form, the village maid revealed the perfections of her well made figure and the young chief (manaia) enabled the designs of his tattooing to be fully admired. Before important functions, portions of the young chief's tattooing were gone over again with a tattooing instrument and pigment to darken it and thus show it up more. The term 'a'u means to surround or to meet as with the ends of a wide kilt. By using the negative le, titi fa'ale'a'u means a kilt made not to meet. Early writers state that the narrow kilt was also worn by men as an ordinary garment. b, In the wide kilt (titi fa'atuso'o) more leaf strips were added to the plaited band until the hanging strips completely surrounded the waist when the ends were brought together. From so'o, to join, the name titi fa'atuso'o means a kilt made to join at the ends. The garment was always worn by women on ordinary occasions and by men as an alternative to the narrow kilt. The term sulu is to fasten on a kilt and sulunga titi is the part which is fastened. Women fastened it over the right hip, and men fastened it behind. Women preferred longer strips of material for their kilts so that they resembled skirts rather page 252than kilts. From the long hanging strips, they received the additional name of taunga loloa. Hence a woman's long deep kilt received the name of titi lauti, from the kind of material, titi fa'atuso'o, from the technique, and taunga loloa, from the length of the hanging strips.

Figure 137.—Cordyline leaf kilt, four-ply braid, double layer:

Figure 137.—Cordyline leaf kilt, four-ply braid, double layer:

a, the back-ply (4) has just crossed from the left side so the ti leaf (5) is added to it which forms the first layer element with the butt end sloping towards the plaiter; b, an element of the second layer (6) is now crossed over the first and the butt slopes away from the plaiter; c, the back-ply on the right (2) is now crossed to the middle and in doing so crosses over the ply (4) and the butt end of the first layer leaf (5); d, the back-ply on the left (1) is in turn crossed to the middle, crosses the two plies (3 arid 2) and also the butt of second layer leaf (6); e, the technique is now established and after every twist made by the back ply on the left to the middle a fresh leaf is added to it in the same oblique direction and immediately after crossed with a second at right angles. When the back ply from the right comes into the middle position, it brings with it the butt end of the leaves of the first layer as (5) with the ply (4). The butt ends of the first layer are thus incorporated with the plies upon which they are placed. The butt ends of the second layer as they cross in the opposite direction are left projecting beyond the right edge of the braid (7). Each leaf of the second layer is also crossed by two plies from the left. [Thus in (d) the leaf (6) has been crossed by the ply (1) and in the next movement from the left it will also be crossed by the ply (3).] The first layer is shown by (8) and the second layer by (7). The plaiting proceeds in this manner until the length required is reached. The free braid is continued for a little distance and knotted. f, The butt ends of the second layer (7) are dealt with by twisting each tuft around the base of the one in front of it. In the figure the twisting commences at the bottom, passes to the left or strip side of the tuft in front, and is turned to the right or free edge of the braid. The next tuft as it follows suit, fastens down the free end of the previous tuft. The last or top tuft (9) is crossed over the previous one and fixed by pushing it between the strands of the braid. Figure f is shown in that position to enable it to be compared with (e), but in actual technique it would be turned upside down to enable the twisting to be done towards the worker. The twisting adds decorative effect to the waist band.

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Some kilts are made very thick by using two layers of leaves attached in opposite directions at the band in order to balance the oblique direction as they enter the braid. (See Plate XXI, A.)

The foundation of the waist band is four strips of bast plaited into a braid as in figure 137. Here the back-ply from the left crosses two plies and the ti leaves are added to the plies crossing from the left.

Kilts were also named after the variety of ti used; as, titi fonua, titi tongotongo, and titi 'ula. The titi 'ula of the red variety of ti was also called lauti 'ula (red ti leaves) to distinguish it from the feather titi 'ula. They were fringed for dancing, hence the saying as applied to the equipment for the dance: "Le fonga tele ma le lauti 'ula" (The big top knot of hair and the red ti leaf kilt).

The ordinary wearing ti leaf kilt lasted only a day or two. It was part of the women's duties to plait a new kilt for the menfolk, ready to put on in the morning. It is the kilt of green leaves that is meant by the name titi lauti. When dried and withered, it was called a titi pa'upa'u or titi mangumangu, both adjectives meaning dry. The discarded dry titi were often used by old men whilst weeding amongst the stones of the platform or loosely paved areas surrounding the houses. They sat on the ground and moved forward by sliding in the sitting position instead of rising. The sliding movement is called se'ese'e and the cast off kilts used in weeding thus received the additional name of titi se'ese'e. Hence when anyone attempts to make use of a person to do unpleasant work, the following saying is quoted: "A fai ea a'u mou titi se'ese'e" (Do you wish to use me as an old dry weeding kilt).

The dance kilts are sometimes dyed black when they are termed titi pala, tualua, or pa'anga.

Figure 138.—Kilt of fau bast, single cord attachment (fatu):

Figure 138.—Kilt of fau bast, single cord attachment (fatu):

a, 'one end of the cord (1) is fixed usually by tying to the big toe, long strips of bast are doubled at the middle and the loop (2) so formed is passed under the cord and then brought forward over it, and the finger is then passed down through the loop and pulls the two strands (3). of bast up through it; b, back view in which the loop (2) is drawn taut; c, others are added; d, pulling them extra taut the suspensory cord is concealed.

The chief's name for a ti leaf kilt is salinga, savalinga, or nau. Pratt (23, p. 224) states that the district of Matautu, Savaii, used the name noa. He also gives fusiua as a general name.

The kilts of fau bast (titi fau) differ from the ti leaf kilt in not having the braid commencement (fili). The long strips of bast are attached to one or two horizontal cords, the ends of which are used to tie the garment page 254around the waist. The method of attaching the fau strips to the cord is termed fatu. In technique, the fau kilt is termed titi fatu to distinguish it from the braided kilt (titi fili). The method of attaching the strips differs in the single and the paired waist cords. The waist cords may be two-ply twisted strips of bast or a single thick strip twisted on itself to form a round cord.

With the single cord attachment, the method is exactly the same as in making a kava strainer. (See fig. 138.) The two-cord attachment is shown in figure 139.

Figure 139.—Kilt of fau bast, two cord attachment (fatu):

Figure 139.—Kilt of fau bast, two cord attachment (fatu):

a, the two waist cords (1, 2) are fixed at one end and held horizontally side by side, then a strip of bast (3) is held transversely below the cords at its middle; b, the bast strip is double up around the outer sides of the two cords and both parts passed down between the cords to the right of the lower loop (4) formed and the loop drawn taut; c, other strips are added successively in the same manner on the right; d, by pulling the loops taut and pushing each added strip close to the preceding strip on the left, the two suspensory cords are concealed.

Figure 140.—The fanga i'o kilt, loop ornamentation (fatu fa'afeti'i):

Figure 140.—The fanga i'o kilt, loop ornamentation (fatu fa'afeti'i):

a, a long strip of thin bast (1) about 0.4 inch wide has one end placed against the vertical strand (2) just below the tuft (3). Holding the end against the strand with the left thumb, the right hand forms a loop about 0.75 inch long with the strip. The strip, after forming the loop, is laid against the strand over its own end and the completed loop is held against the strand by the left thumb. The base of the loop is then tied to the strand with a thin strip of bast (4). The first loop (5) is thus formed with the strip (1) against the strand (2). b, The strip (1) is looped up again and the bast brought back to the strand (2) below the first loop (5). The cord (4) is wound around the looping strip and the strand to fix the second loop (6). c, In this manner by means of the continuous strip (1) and the continuous cord (4) wound spirally around the strand and the base of each successive loop, the loops are added to the strand for from 5 to 6 inches of its length. The loops work spirally around the strand and form clusters close together. The last loop is tied to the strand with the end (6) of the spiral cord. The required number are made ere going on to the waist band.

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The attachment of strips is continued toward the right until the kilt is long enough to pass round the waist. The completed kilts thus consist merely of strips of bast hanging from a single or double cord and constitute the true titi fau.

The kilt figured in Plate XXI, B, is unusually long and has been colored yellow in a solution of turmeric root (ango).

Kilts of fangai'o bast. The bast of the fangai'o splits readily into very thin layers which have a fine, lacelike appearance from the open texture of the fibres. A particular looped ornamentation is made with this material to form hanging strips for dancing kilts. (See Plate XXI, C.)

The hanging strips end below in a tuft of long strips. The tufts are fastened to a vertical strand either by tying them at one end or looping the strand round the middle of the strip forming the tuft. The vertical strand serves as the basis for attaching the loop. The loop technique is termed fatu fa'afeti'i. (See fig. 140.)

The waistband commences with three fairly thick strands of fangai'o bast plaited into a braid. After plaiting for a few inches, a loop ornamentation is introduced into the braid. (See figure 141.)

Figure 141.—The fangai'o kilt, three-ply braid technique:

Figure 141.—The fangai'o kilt, three-ply braid technique:

a, a thin strip of fangai'o bast about 0.25 inch wide has one end (1) laid over the middle ply of the braid and is crossed by the next ply. The long end of the strip is now on the upper side. When the next ply from the upper side is brought to the middle, the strip makes a loop (2) and joins it. Both are crossed by the next ply. The next loop (3) is made on the lower side and comes in with the middle ply from that side. In this manner, loops are formed alternately on either side of the braid. In the loop (5), the strip (6) is seen joining the middle ply (7), which will be crossed by the ply (8). The loops are added along the length of the braid at the same time that the hanging strips are being worked into the braid. The bases of the loop may be put closer together by making the second crossing of the loop on the ply which crosses the first part as in loop (4). b, The hanging strips with loop ornamentation are shown being added to the braid, but the loops on the braid are left out of the figure to allow the technique to be clearly seen. The ends of the hanging strips are added from the same side to the middle plies from that side in exactly the same manner as in the ti leaf kilt. Thus the strip (4) joins the middle ply (2) as it comes in from the lower side. It will be crossed by the ply (1) and the end becomes an element in the ply which it joined. This technique is followed throughout. The hanging strips are added from 1.5 to 1.75 inches apart. In the kilt described there are 31 hanging strips. After the last one is added, the braiding is continued for a few inches and knotted with an overhand knot, the ends of the plies being left free.

The kilt is used in dancing but owing to the spaced nature of the hanging strips, it is put on over some other garment as additional ornamentation. This type of kilt is now usually colored with various foreign dyes and made largely page 256for tourist traffic. From the use of braided suspensory cords, the kilts are classified as titi fili

Pandanus leaf kilts. Dancing kilts (titi fala) are made of strips of pandanus leaf and though the material may be lau'ie they are referred to as titi fala. The kilt figured in Plate XXII, C, is made from the discarded under layer of lau'ie provided by the preparation of material for fine mats. It is thus really a by product. The strips are about 0.5 inches wide.

Two suspensory cords of two-ply sennit twist are used as a waistband but the pandanus strips are attached to them in a different way to that in fau kilts. (See fig. 142.)

Figure 142.—Pandanus kilt, double cord attachment:

Figure 142.—Pandanus kilt, double cord attachment:

a, two strips (3 and 4) are placed between the cords (1 and 2), the left strip with the short end down and the other reversed; b, the short upper end of the right strip (4) is doubled downwards to the near side of the lower cord (2) and the upper long end of the left strip (3) makes a loop on the near side and passing over both parts of the right strip, passes under both cords on the right of the right strip; c, the long end of the left strip (3) is brought over the top of both cords and passed down through its own loop. On drawing the loop taut, it brings the two cords close together and thus jams both strips between them while the loop keeps down the short end of the right strip (4). d, Other pairs are added in the same way and the appearance from the front shown. Every here and there, wide strips of the thin layer of the full width of the lau'ie leaf (5) are attached for ornamentation. The upper ends are simply pressed together to narrow them and the narrowed ends pushed down between the two suspensory cords. The tightening up of the cords by the following looped strips keeps them in position. e, The appearance at the back and also the short end of the wide strip (5) that has been pushed through.

The ornamental wide strips in the kilt described were dyed with 'o'a native dye and also with some foreign trade dye. Some strips consisted of the full leaf unsplit into layers and ornamented with narrow, dyed strips from the upper layer of the lau'ie which were sewn across in various patterns. Though the idea of sewing patterns is foreign, the foundation technique of the kilt is native. Such kilts have 110 high status, but in the making used waste material made available by some more important activity, thus saving labor.

The feather kilt (titi 'ula) is shown in Plate XXII, A. The feathers are attached to fine two-ply twisted cords in small bunches. (See figure 143.)

The titi 'ula is worn outside of other garments for dances and festivals. As the name 'ula implies, the feathers consisted of the red feathers of the parrakeet, usually obtained from Fiji. Some say that the kilt also is an introduction from Fiji whilst others maintain that it is old Samoan. The scarcity of red feathers which barely met the demand for the highly prized page 257fine mats favors the former contention. Kilts made of the green feathers of the Samoan parrakeet are more common than those made of the red, but the name titi 'ula is now applied to any feather kilt irrespective of color. The feather kilt is kept in a bamboo cage (Pl. XXII, B.) wrapped completely in a thin sheet of bark cloth and suspended from the roof with a long cord by which the cage may be lowered when required.

Figure 143.—Feather kilt (titi 'ula), feather attachment.

Figure 143.—Feather kilt (titi 'ula), feather attachment.

The cord is formed into an open overhand knot (1), the quills of three or four feathers are passed through from either side and the knot drawn taut. This is repeated every 0.25 to 0.5 inch along the cord, as shown on the left. An average of 23 knots are made on each of 22 cords. The upper ends of the cords which are free of feathers are plaited into a three-ply braid of single layer bark cloth (lau u'a) a little over an inch apart. The method is the same as in the kilt of fanga i'o.