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Samoan Material Culture

Beating the Bast

Beating the Bast

For the important process of beating out the bast (tutu) an anvil and beaters are required.

The anvil (tutua). The anvil was usually made of toi wood as it gave a more musical sound when beaten. An example seen in use was 5 feet 7 inches long, rectangular in cross section, the upper and lower surfaces 8.5 inches wide and the sides 7 inches. The upper longitudinal edges were rounded off (See Plate XXXI, D.) Others seen in use were merely sections of a tree trunk.

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A well made anvil in Bishop Museum is 6 feet 9 inches in length. The upper surface is 8 inches wide in the middle, tapering down to 6.5 inches at the ends where it is rounded off. The sides are slightly under cut and ornamented with a continuous deeply incised chevron pattern. The sides are 5 inches deep in the middle. The under side has three transverse bars projecting down slightly and serving as legs, one in the middle, and the others towards the ends. On either side of the middle leg and running out to the outer legs, the under surface has been hollowed out.

The anvils were hollowed out to give a better sound for in olden days, women amused themselves at work by beating out various rhythms. They had many signals by which they could warn one another of the approach of strangers, and conduct a limited conversation. Anvils were also made of toa and ala'a wood.

Beaters (i'e) were usually made of pau wood but some were made of toa (Casuarina sp.). The Samoans classified them into smooth beaters (i'e mole) and grooved beaters (i'e tosi). In shape, they classify readily into two types, round and foursided. Of sixteen beaters in Bishop Museum, ten are four sided, five round, and one a variation of the round type. Another term for a grooved beater is i'e teuteu. (See Plate XXXI, A.)

The round beaters are all smooth without any longitudinal grooves and are thus all i'e mole. They are longer than the other type, ranging from 15 inches to 17.75 inches with an average of 16 inches. In cross section, the beating part is usually elliptical though some may be circular. The beating part slopes gradually back into the handle, usually with no shoulder or abrupt change to mark any junction. The handle is much less in diameter than the blade and is usually flared out at its proximal end. (For the type beater see Plate XXXI, A, 1.)

The main variations may be summed up: The cross section is elliptical in four beaters, with the greatest diameter at the distal end ranging between 2.5 and 2.7 inches, the difference to the lesser diameter ranges from 0.2 to 0.4 inches. One was circular.

Between the beating part and handle, one beater out of five had a distinct shoulder 7.5 inches from the distal end, the beater being 16 inches long. The others had no trace as the slope was gradual.

The cross section of the handle was circular in three being 1.3 to 1.4 inches diameter. The largest beater had a difference in two diameters of 0.1 inch with the longest diameter 1.6 inches. The smallest had a difference of 0.3 inches.

Flaring of proximal end of the handle was present in two out of five.

The four-sided beaters are shorter ranging in a series of nine from 11.5 inches to 15.25 inches. They are practically square in section, with the four surfaces narrowing towards the handle. The slope from the beating part to page 289the handle is gradual and while the junction between the two parts is fairly distinct, it is not abrupt except in one abnormal form. The handle is circular in cross section but may have a slight difference in two diameters. The proximal end of the handle is usually flared. The beaters may be smooth on all four surfaces (mole), or grooved longitudinally on from one to three surfaces. In none of the beaters were all four surfaces grooved.

Smooth beaters (i'e mole). A typical beater (c. 354) not figured is 12 inches long. The cross diameters at the distal end are 2.3 and 2.2 inches. The end is cut off square. All four surfaces narrow gradually towards the handle and at the indistinct shoulder, both diameters are 1.7 inches. This point is 7.25 inches from the distal end. The handle narrows down to cross diameters of 1.5 and 1.35 inches. The proximal end of the handle flares out to cross diameters of 1.9 and 1.8 inches. The beater is smooth throughout and is 27 ounces in weight.

Of two other beaters in this sub class, one conforms closely to the type beater, but the other is very long. (See Plate XXXI, A, 4.)

Grooved beaters (i'e tosi). Of seven grooved beaters, one is grooved on one surface, five on two surfaces and one on three surfaces. The type beater is shown in Plate XXXI, A, 5.

The cross section of the beating part is practically square, there being a difference in the two diameters at most of 0.1 inch and in one case of 0.15 inches. Leaving out the special small beater, the distal diameter ranges from 2.6 to 2.9 inches with an average of 2.7 except for an abnormally large beater which has distal cross diameters of 3.2 and 3.1 inches.

All surfaces narrow towards the proximal end; none have parallel sides. By dividing the length of the beating part by the difference between the width of the distal and proximal ends of the beating surface a slope index is secured. Thus in the type beater (c. 760), the length of the beating surface is 7 inches and the difference between the two ends 0.7 inches. The index of slope is thus 1 in 10, which is a fair indication of the slope in these beaters. The beating surfaces average about 7 inches in length. At the distal end they range in width from 2.5 to 3.1 inches. At the proximal end, they average slightly over 2 inches ranging from 1.8 to 2.5 inches. The beating surfaces are thus marked by comparative short length, extra width, and by narrowing towards the proximal end.

The grooves are deep and wide but badly cut as they are often irregular at the edges. In one beater, the proximal ends of the grooves are cut off square in line with each other. In the same beater, the ridges formed by the grooves are rounded off. (See Plate XXXI, A, 7.) The beater with one grooved surface has eight grooves. In the five beaters with two grooved surfaces, the grooves are distributed as follows: 5+5, 5 + 5, 5+6, 5+8 while page 290in the beater with the widest surfaces they are 6+8. In all except the very small beater, the grooved surfaces are opposite each other. The beater with three grooved surfaces has 5 grooves on each surface. Thus 5 grooves per surface is the usual number and the most is 8. The grooves are thus very widely spaced as compared with those of east central Polynesia and Hawaii. As the same grooves vary in their distance apart owing to convergence at the proximal end, they cannot be calculated in numbers per centimetre. It may be stated, however, that at the closest they are 6 mm. apart and at the widest 11 mm.

The handles are approximately circular in the narrowest part, there being a difference of 0.1 inches at most in cross diameters. The diameter ranges between 1.3 and 1.6 inches except in one rather thin long handle where it is 1.1 and 1.2 inches in cross diameter. At the junction with the beating part, the slope is gradual and in some form a rather indistinct shoulder. In one abnormal case (Pl. XXXI, A, 7) there is first a distinct bevelled shoulder with the beating surfaces and then a perpendicular cut down to the handle, which is thinned down to the same thickness throughout. The proximal end is flared in five out of seven beaters, the increase being 0.2 to 0.3 inches more than the narrowest diameter of the handle but in the most marked flaring, the proximal end has cross diameters of 2.3 and 2.1 inches as against the circular diameter of the handle of 1.6 inches. The slope of the flare runs evenly up at the end making a sharp acute angle with the rim but in two beaters the rim was found to be trimmed off.

Large grooved beater with shoulder. The beater (Pl. XXXI, A, 7) with wide surfaces, the cut away shoulder and long shaped handle is exceptionally large and heavy. The distal end surface instead of being flat or slightly convex, is cut in pyramidal form by carrying four surfaces down from the beating surfaces to meet in a middle point with four distinct edges running from each corner to the middle point. The projection of the middle point is nearly one inch. This feature, combined with the cutting of the shoulder and shaping of the handle, shows a marked departure from normal due to the excessive use of a steel tool.

Smooth beater of triangular section. The beater in Plate XXXI, A, 3 is 14 inches long and 30 ounces in weight. The beating part is triangular in cross section with the longitudinal edges between surfaces rounded off. At the distal end, the narrowest surface is 2.5 inches and each of the others 2.75 inches.

The beating surfaces shape gradually into the handle which is flared at its proximal end. It is smooth throughout. The beater is a variation of the round type of i'e mole, the triangular section being most probably influenced by a natural tendency of the wood in that direction.

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Small grooved beater (Pl. XXXI, A, 8) is a departure from normal size. The owners gave Mr. A. F. Judd the name of i'e tusitusi for the beater but could give no other information as to any special use. As tusi means to mark siapo, this specially light beater may have had something to do with the beating down of the cloth on the dyeing tablet as mentioned by Ella (11, p. 168).

Foreign type. The beater figured in Plate XXXI, A, 9 was obtained on the island of Ofu, but no history could be obtained.

The tapapanga bundle, still damp, is placed lengthwise across the anvil and beaten evenly with the i'e beater. The margins and then the middle were beaten so that the thinning and spreading went on evenly by gradual stages. When the package was fairly thin, it was doubled and again beaten thinner. It was then opened out and the bands or creases at the folds which were slightly thicker were beaten to make the material of an even consistency. They were again folded and beaten. The grooved sides of the mallet were used first and the smooth sides as the material got thinner. The beating continued until the expert judged that the material was thin enough. (See Plate XXXII, B, 3.) The various packages prepared were all beaten separately before going on to the next process. The beaten material was meanwhile kept under cover of a sheet of bark cloth to prevent it drying too soon.

From the description of the scraping and folding, it will be understood that the strips of bast though damp were, speaking comparatively as regards the proceedure in parts of Polynesia to the east, fairly dry. Hence when the packages were beaten there was no felting of the strips together. On opening out the beaten bundles, the material formed from each strip came out as a separate and distinct sheet of thin cloth. They were long and narrow, wider at the butt end and thus conforming in shape with the nature of the strip. Towards the tip end, there were usually holes that coincided in position with the parts formed by flaws in the bark made by the leaf buds. Thus at the end of the beating process, the number of sheets of thin cloth corresponded to the number of strips of bark contained in the packages.