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Samoan Material Culture

Plain Siapo

Plain Siapo

The finished siapo before it leaves the hands of the craftswomen is always colored with various dyes. There are two methods of applying the dyes; one to each lau'a sheet that forms the thickness of the siapo, and the other to the last sheet that is added. In the latter process, the full size of the sheet is made in plain material before the painting of the upper outer surface is commenced. The material required is a board and the glutinous material.

The board (papa) used is that on which the painting of the siapo is usually done. It is generally formed from a portion of the hull of an old canoe. One examined was 67 inches long and 18 inches wide over its transversely convex surface.

The glutinous material is any one of those mentioned, but for plain cloth breadfruit is commonly used. It makes very white siapo which is fairly stiff ('otu 'otu).

The first lauu'a sheet is laid over the board with the widest part from the butt end of the bast towards the worker and its length transversely across the board. The section on the board is then painted over with the breadfruit paste leaving a fair margin on the right border of the sheet. The second sheet is placed carefully upon the first and the part on the board rubbed evenly to make them stick together. The upper surface of the second sheet is next pasted with the paste over an area corresponding with that pasted on the first. A third sheet of lau'a is now carefully applied and rubbed evenly to make them stick together. Three thicknesses are usually enough but a fourth and then a fifth sheet may be similarly applied according to the thickness required. In this description, three will suffice. The worker may now move the stuck sheets to her left or move along the board. It will be noted that the ends of the sheets beyond the board are separate as are also the side margins on the right. On the right, the free margins of the two upper sheets are folded back over the united part. The margin of the lower sheet is painted with paste for the width of the board. A sheet of lau'a is then reversed so that its narrow end is towards the worker. Its left margin is carefully overlapped over the pasted part of the first sheet and carefully rubbed to join them together. The section of the new sheet on the board is then pasted, care page 295being taken to carry the paste back as far as the line of adherence between the first and second sheets on the left. The free right margin of the second sheet on the left is then turned down and stuck. The upper surface of its right margin is also pasted. A second sheet with its narrow end towards the worker is then placed in position on the pasted surface and stuck. The upper surface of the second layer on the board is pasted as before as far to the left as the line of adherence between the second and third left sheets. The right margin of the third left sheet is turned back and straightened out over the pasted part. A few touches of paste are given to the upper surface of its right margin and a third sheet placed in position. The right margins of the second set of three sheets, which have been left unpasted are folded back, and a third set of three dealt with in the same manner. In this manner, sheets are added on the right until the desired depth is reached. Instead of dealing with widths of one sheet of lau'a, two or three sheets may be dealt with at once to make a convenient working width. The principle of marginal overlapping is, however, the same.

When the depth has been obtained, the stuck portion is rolled or folded longitudinally with the length of the board so as to bring another section of the free parts on the other side of the board into position on the board. Commencing at the left margin, the far ends of the sheets are folded back towards the worker. The lowest sheet is left on the board. Its upper surface is painted with paste for the section on the board. The line of adherence is now transversely on the near edge of the board. The worker sees to it that this transverse line of adherence is actually on the board. The second sheet is then turned forward over it and rubbed down. The right margins as before are left free of paste. The second sheet is smeared with paste except for the right margin and the third or upper sheet turned forward and stuck down. The next set of three on the right are dealt with successively as before. Here, however, there is now a line of adherence on the near side as well as the left. If the sheets of lau'a fit well through the alternate reversing of the sheets, when first stuck together, the margins will overlap quite well. Should there be any gap, a piece cut to the appropriate size is fitted in. When the second segment of pasting has been completed, the pasted part is further rolled to draw the next unpasted segment on to the board. Commencing on the left, the process is repeated until the required length is secured. If the length of the sheets of lau'a is not sufficient more material is joined on end to end in exactly the same way as side to side joining.

The fa'apa'o'o process. In the method of preparing the bark that has been described, it will be noted that the bast is separated from the outer bark without previous soaking in water. The bast separates quite readily as I have personally observed on several occasions. Pritchard (24, p. 130), however, states:

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The tree is cut clown, the bark peeled off, and soaked for forty-eight hours in water. The outer or brown bark is then separated from the inner or white, and the woody parts of the latter removed by scraping with a particular kind of shell.

The present day Samoan, however, denies that the bark was soaked beforehand as a necessary introduction to the scraping and beating of the bast. It is only done according to them when the bark cannot be dealt with immediately after it is brought in from the plantation. This occurred in past times when the paper mulberry was grown more extensively than now. When a large quantity of saplings matured at the same time, they were all cut to save the bark from becoming too old and thus useless for cloth. The bark was stripped and the bast separated (fofo'e). When the quantity of bast was too great to be scraped and beaten at once, it was stored away to await a convenient time. Before dealing with such stored bast which had become dry, it was soaked overnight in water if the fafai process of scraping was to be carried out on the following day. The scraping and beating were then exactly the same as that already described for the fresh bark. The material produced was termed u'a fa'apa'o'o to show that the u'a had been kept till it was dry instead of being beaten when fresh. The term pa'o'o means the dried gills of a fish such as the bonito which were used as a shark bait.

The Cook Islanders soaked the separated bast for twenty-four hours in water before beating it. Pritchard had been British Consul in Tahiti before going to Samoa and he may have confused the technique of that area with that of Samoa.

Joining technique. In the now prevailing technique, the individual sheets obtained from each strip of bast are stretched by the lelenga process before they are dried. They are joined together with arrowroot or other material after having been dried.

Pritchard (24, p. 130) again gives a different method as follows:

The bark is procured from the plant in strips of three, four or five inches wide, but by scraping and beating it is spread out to some ten inches, and made so thin that it is quite transparent. Several pieces are then put together, over each other, according to the thickness of the cloth required, arrowroot being used to make them stick together. The strips are then put together in widths to suit the purpose and beaten again, until they are made into one. The whole is then dried in the sun.

Again one cannot help thinking that confusion in the detail of Samoan technique has occurred through unconsciously transferring ideas formed in another area, or general deductions made through not carefully observing each detail in its proper sequence. The latter contingency would arise in regard to cloth making with any general observer who was not forced by special circumstances to carefully record the technical details of each stage in the manufacture.