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Samoan Material Culture

Varieties and Methods of Preparation

page 297

Varieties and Methods of Preparation

Before describing the other process of making siapo, it is necessary to deal with the various dyes. The plant dyes in common use at the present time are a reddish-brown ('o?a), red (loa), yellow (ango and lenga), and black (lama). A red earth (ele) is extensively used. A number of others that have gone out of active use are mentioned by various writers.

The 'o'adye (Bischoffia javanica). The 'o'a dye procured from the bark of the Bischoffia javanica gives a reddish-brown color and is the one in common use. The bark is scraped with a shell by women from the growing tree and falls into a coconut leaf basket placed in position at the foot of the tree. Many 'o'a trees may be seen growing with the trunks showing the scarifications made by dye gatherers. The baskets of bark shreds are brought home where the wringing takes place.

The 'o'a wringer (to tau'o'a). The to tau'o'a acts as both strainer and wringer, hence to, a strainer, and tau, to wring. Another name is unu. It is a long plaited band made of strips of fau bast. A wringer presented to Bishop Museum by Fuimaono of Aaloau, Tutuila is 7 feet 4 inches in length and varies in width from 12 inches at the ends to 14 inches in the middle. The wefts range from 5 to 10 millimeters in width and are 2 mm. in thickness.

The plaited band as shown in Plate XXXII, C is square at one end and finished off with a number of three-ply braided tying cords at the other. The plaiting is in check and commences at the left corner of the squared end in much the same way as the commencement of the 'ie fau garment in figure 153. In the wringer, however, there are no complications with adding fringe elements. (See figure 166.)

The dye is prepared by women in the vicinity of the cooking house. The basket of bark shavings, the wringer, some banana leaves, a wooden bowl, a stout stake, and a cross beam of the cooking house are all that is required.

The banana leaves are spread on the ground for the length of the wringer. The wringer is stretched on the banana leaves and opened out. The bark shavings are distributed over its length as shown in Plate XXXIII, A. Less material is placed at the ends. The side edges of the plaited band are then folded over the material and made to overlap. To the middle of one side edge a couple of lengths of sennit braid are attached by one end. These are run spirally round the folded wringer towards each end and tied. The wringer with the contained material now looks like a huge sausage. Two women, holding the ends carry the wringer beneath one of the cross beams (utupoto) of the cooking house. The square end is placed on the beam with the slightest overlap. Holding it in position, the other end is raised and placed over it from the opposite side. The braided ends are used to tie the two parts page 298together just below the beam. The sausage like band hangs in a long loop, A stout stake is passed through the lower end of the loop and women holding each end walk round and round to twist the wringer. A wooden bowl is placed below. As they walk slowly round, the women put a good deal of weight on the stake so as to keep the wringer taut and prevent it buckling up. The beam over which the wringer is supported is called the unualunga and the lower stake used as a handle, unualalo.

Figure 166.—Dye strainer (to tau 'o'a), plait technique:

Figure 166.—Dye strainer (to tau 'o'a), plait technique:

a, the lower border is carried on by bending up each newly added sinistral weft (3 to 7) to act as a dextral (1' to 6'); b, To form the right corner, the last weft (6') which has been turned in under the sinistral (7) to act as a dextral is again turned through a right angle to function as a sinistral. It has been crossed with the check technique at the working edge. c, The sinistral (7) is now turned through two right angles to pass under the dextral (5) and along the working edge as a sinistral (7'). The corner is established and the other dextrals (5', 4') successively turned into the left to define the right edge of the band. The full width of the band having been obtained by defining the left and right corners and the side edges, the plaiting proceeds along that width. The same width is maintained by turning the wefts in as they reach the side edges. The width varies as stated from 12 to 14 inches, the greater width in the middle being obtained by using wider wefts and not increasing the number. When the length of 7 feet 4 inches is reached, the wefts are plaited into three-ply braids. At the finishing edge of the band figured," there were 70 wefts including dextrals and sinistrals. These were plaited into 12 braids, the number of wefts varying in each braid from 4 to 9. Plaiting commenced on the left of the even edge by taking a number of wefts, dividing them into three plies, and plaiting the braid which ranged from 16 inches to 38 inches. This was continued across the edge until all the wefts were used up and the 12 braids thus formed.

As the pressure takes effect, the liquid simply pours out of the wringer and runs into the bowl. When the liquid ceases to run, the women reverse and walk round in the opposite direction. Again when the pressure is felt, another lot of liquid runs down. The pressure is kept up steadily until no more liquid can be obtained. The wringer is taken down and the drained bark refuse discarded. It burns well when dry. The rest of the material is dealt with similarly.

It is surprising the amount of liquid that is obtained from the bark. The bark has to be dealt with the same day as procured. No water is added to the bark as it weakens the dye. The liquid is stored in large coconut shells; similar to those used as water bottles. (See Plate XXXII, D, 1.) It is' page 299corked with dry banana leaf and will last some time. The fluid is reddish-brown in color and forms the full dye, nothing being added to it.

Besides being used by itself it is used with the black dye from the soot of the candlenut and also with the yellow dye.

The loa dye (Bixa orellana). The loa is an introduced tree but the bright red five obtained from the seeds is simply squeezed with the fingers in a wooden bowl or a half coconut shell. It has to be used when procurable as there is no method of keeping it for any time.

The ango and lenga (Cucuma longa). The turmeric plant (Cucuma longa) is called ango as is also the root and the dye obtained from it directly after grating. The turmeric powder obtained by a complicated process from the root is called lenga.

The terms ango and lenga are quite distinct and must not be confused: a, in making ango, the root is grated and used directly by mixing with water when it give a dull yellow color, or with 'o'a when the yellow is much brighter. This is the usual form used for dyeing cloth in, both the rubbing and painting processes. b, The making of turmeric (lenga) is a complicated process that is carried out by a number of women. It is never an individual effort. When carried out by a family, it is termed fainga; by the village, nuanga. Like other communal activities it was marked by a set routine accompanied by prohibitions as well as feasting and enjoyment.

A house is set apart as the fale nuanga and an enclosure of pola mats made round it. A small paopao canoe is carried up into the house and the apparatus set up for grating the root. A skilled woman is appointed sisili (director of the work). Meanwhile preparations for a feast are made by the menfolk.

Gathering the root. Parties of women go out into the bush and dig up the roots with pointed sticks. The baskets of root are carried down to the seaside and washed. The roots are then scraped within the enclosure with pipi shells. The material being ready, the process is as follows:

Grating (ngungu). Special graters are prepared from poles about 1.5 inches in diameter. Five or six of these are attached at intervals to one gunwale of the paopao canoe placed within the house or fale nuanga. The poles slant obliquely across the hold of the canoe and the upper ends are attached to a convenient part of the frame of the house. The lower parts that are above the canoe hold are closely wrapped for about 18 inches of their length with sennit braid, which supplies the grating surface. Above the sennit surface, a banana leaf is tied so that it hangs vertically down against the inner surface of the far side of the canoe hold. The leaves prevent the grated material from falling outside the canoe receptacle. A woman sits down beside the lower end of each pole. Using both hands, the ango roots are rubbed against the under surface of the sennit grater and the gratings fall down into the canoe. The usual term for grating is olo but the grating of turmeric receives the special name of ngungu. When a sufficient quantity has been grated, it is strained.

Straining ('po). The strainer (po) is formed of three or four stakes set upright in the ground to form a triangle or square. Coconut leaves split longitudinally down the midrib are used to form an upper continuous rim. The hanging leaflets are gathered page 300together below in the middle and their tip ends tied together to close the bottom. Selected large strips of the textile-looking material (lau'a'a) from the base of coconut leaves are used for lining the inner surface of the strainer. The edges of the pieces are made to overlap and the edges are sewn together with strips of fau bast. A pointed stick is used for piercing holes through the material. The strainer is called a po as is also the process of straining. Another small canoe or a large wooden bowl is placed below the strainer.

The grated ango from the first canoe is placed in the strainer. Water is added and the mass worked with the hands (lomi). The liquid part strains through the fibrous lining of lau'a'a into the vessel below. When the grated material has been treated, the liquid in the vessel or vessels is allowed to settle. The refuse within the strainer is cleaned out and discarded.

Decanting the water. As the liquid settles in the vessels, the heavier extract from the ango sinks and the water used in washing through the strainer rises to the top. The water is then decanted by tilting the vessel.

Decanting the lenga, fa'amămā. The ango extract left in the bowl divides into a thicker lower layer (malasina), and a thinner, lighter layer (lenga) which floats to the top. The process of separating these two layers is termed fa'amama. The sisili or director here assumes direct personal control. She uses a coconut cup with a hole in the bottom as a dipper. An empty bowl is placed beside that containing the liquid. The latter is carefully tilted and the upper layer of lenga slowly decanted into the second bowl. Some bowls used to contain ango are made with a short spout and some have merely a groove cut at the narrower end. These forms facilitate the pouring off of the lenga but ordinary bowls are also used. The sisili dips up the liquid in her cup and allows it to run back into the bowl to keep the lenga in motion and assist in running it off. The expert judgment of the sisili is exercised in deciding when all the lenga has been poured off. On completion, the lenga is in the second bowl and what remains in the first is the malasina. The above process is referred to in the saying, "O le atete'a nei lenga ma le malasina" (The lenga is being separated from the malasina), which is quoted metaphorically when selections and divisions are being made.

Use of malasina. The thicker malasina is not used as a dye but it is cooked for food, by dropping-heated stones into it.

Cooking the turmeric. The yellow turmeric is prepared by cooking the liquid lenga that has been decanted. Stones are heated in an oven. The firewood used is always breadfruit. As a fierce heat is not required, only the small branches (lala) of the tree are used.

A number of half coconut shells are cleaned and prepared as containers for the liquid lenga. The half shells used are always those which contain the mata depressions at the end. The single mata is pierced with a coconut leaflet midrib and cleaned out so that each cup has a hole through the bottom. The holes are plugged with strips of banana leaf to close them.

The heated stones are arranged in threes with the iofi tongs to form stands upon which the round cups may rest securely without spilling. The sisili fills the prepared cups with lenga and they are placed on the heated stones. The cups are lastly covered over with leaves such as those of the fau pata and left for an hour.

On removing the oven leaves, the lenga is found to have solidified within the cups. The plugs are then removed from the bottom of the cups. The cups are inverted on the palm of the hand and by blowing through the holes, the page 301lenga comes out in perfect molds the shape of the shell cups. They are then dried (fa'ala) in the sun. The dry lenga is wrapped in thin lau'a cloth and stored. Care must be taken both in wrapping and in storing as the material easily crumbles into powder.

When thus prepared lenga is a rich, deep yellow in color. When crumbled, it forms a fine powder, which was formerly much in demand.

Uses. Cloth dye. For dyeing siapo, the grated material in the form of anno is that in general use. It satisfies the purpose and can be readily prepared in the quantity required by the siapo maker who also avoids the complicated manufacture of real lenga. When made lenga serves other important purposes not served by ango and it is usually kept for those purposes. When I asked some women if they used lenga for dyeing siapo they returned a negative answer. When I triumphantly pointed to the yellow color used on some of their siapo, they said it wasn't lenga but ango. It was not until the whole process of the preparation of lenga had been explained that I could understand that the yellow dye was not lenga. Although it is not usual, lenga may be used with 'o'a to produce a fine yellow dye.

Ornamentation. The yellow powder mixed with coconut oil is used for rubbing on the body for ornamentation.

Medicine. Mixed with oil, it is used for rubbing on inflamed parts. It is especially used to rub over recent tattooing to sooth the painful parts.

A usage formerly in vogue is lenga o le matua (the lenga of the father). When making lenga, a family provides one very large shell cup to form a mold. The lenga prepared in it is carefully stored away against the time of death of their father.

When that time arrives and the mourners have taken their place beside the corpse, the family produce the special piece of lenga and hand it to the mourners with the announcement, "O le lenga o le matua" (The turmeric of the father). The mourners then smear themselves with it as a sign of mourning. Such provision beforehand is regarded as fa'aaloalo (high respect for the deceased) and the dutiful offspring gets much credit from the public. The beneficiary, while alive, also derives a certain satisfaction from his present status being respected as well as the more melancholy one that part of his future has been provided for. The lenga o le matua is never given away or used for any other purpose but distribution to the mourners.

Babies. Turmeric is still used as a dusting powder for babies.

The nuanga process of making turmeric is regarded as an important event by the community. The womenfolk enjoy it as it is one of the few occasions upon which they rule the proceedings. Singing and dancing goes on. The young men come to assist those to whom they are paying court. They do the menial tasks in order to have the opportunity of penetrating behind the walls page 302of the pola enclosure. A feast is prepared and pigs are killed for the sisili who is head of the organization.

A further indication of the importance of the occasion is that a number of things are sa or prohibited.

1.In preparing the oven for the feast, any stones that are scattered about the edge must not be replaced. The umu is not trimmed.
2.In grating coconuts for the coconut cream which accompanies feasts, the parts known as tuatua that stick to the shell, must on no account be eaten. The grated nut, after straining off the cream, must not be thrown on the fire or the lenga will become dirty.
3.Grimacing, even in fun, must not be indulged in or the lenga will not solidify.
4.Crying is repressed. If anyone cries, the lenga will cry also (tangi le lenga) and consequently will not solidify. The phrase, tangi tangi le lenga (the lenga is crying), is used for crying babies and originates from the above idea.
5.The person for whom the lenga is being made must not eat by himself any delicacies he may have, such as fish. If he does, flaws will appear on the lenga after removal from the molds. The flaws take the shape of fish or the articles that have been consumed secretly.

In connection with the last prohibition, it should be explained that a chief may ask that lenga be prepared for him. He and his family are then responsible for the entertainment of the workers including the supplying of food for the feast. When the idea originates in the family, the prohibition applies to the head of the family.

The above prohibitions are good examples of sympathetic magic even to the contortions of the face causing movements of the lenga within the molds and thus preventing it from solidifying. They form good excuses for the accidents likely to occur through bad work or ill judgment, dirt, failure to solidify, and flaws in the solidified shapes. The prohibition against secret eating was also to prevent such an occurrence depriving the workers of the choice articles of food. The same idea was carried out by the guild of carpenters when they prohibited the house owner from giving away presents, mats, or food during the construction of the house. The builders retaliated by abandoning the work and leaving a flaw in the building. The turmeric makers threatened a flaw in the shape of the turmeric they built up in the shell cup.

Some districts were famed for their turmeric. Such a one is Siu Fanga in Savaii where the custom of the "Turmeric of the Father" still exists and where these details were obtained.

The lama (Aleuritea molucanna) is a black dye obtained from the soot of the seed kernels of the candle nut tree also called lama. The material is generally prepared in quantity by a number of women banded together into a working party. The hard-shelled nuts are gathered in baskets from beneath the trees and cooked in an oven where it is left for one or two days. The nuts are then cracked between ordinary stones and the kernels threaded on dry coconut leaflet midribs (tuaniu) in the manner of preparing the lighting sometimes used in houses.

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A building of the cooking-house type is set apart for the preparing of the lama. The sides must be closed so as to exclude any wind. Within the house a special fireplace is built of stone. The sides and end are built-up and flat stones with a rough surface are laid across. Within this fireplace the candlenut kernels are lighted and the fire kept going by adding the prepared skewers of nut kernels. The nuts are very oily and burn readily, emitting a black, oily smoke. There may be more than one fireplace, according to the number of the party. Women tend the fire in relays, for it must be kept constantly going. The fine black soot adheres to the surface of the stone. When enough soot has accumulated, the cross stones may be removed and the soot scraped off onto a banana leaf. The stones are replaced and the fire kept going again. The work often lasts through the night.

The soot is stored in large-sized coconut shells which are then called pupu lama. Enough is prepared at one time to supply the family group.

The dry powder, when used, is mixed with 'o'a dye and not with water. The lama is poured into a half-coconut shell and usually rubbed with a stick as a pestle to break up any lumps that may have stuck together. The 'o'a is poured in and a mixture made. The dye is perfectly black and the 'o'a gives it a shiny appearance. It is used for painting the siapo.

Red earth ('ele) is obtained from some parts of Tutuila near Lei especially, and Uapato near Fangaloa in Upolu is famed for the quantity of its 'ele. The material was dug up in lumps with a pointed stick in olden days and it was quite an expedition to obtain it in some of the rougher country. Even now 'ele passes round in the way of trade to the districts that have none. To a siapo maker, her lump of 'ele is an important adjunct.

The 'ele is rubbed on the back of a mangeo shell (Antigone reticulata) and the powder dropped on the surface of the siapo as it is being rubbed. The 'lump is moved about so that the powder is evenly distributed. It is then rubbed over the surface with a piece of bark cloth dipped in 'o'a. The 'ele is generally used with 'o'a and brightens up the color into a more reddish or brick-colored tint. It is never mixed with water or other liquid beforehand as a pigment.

The shells seen with the red 'ele on them are graters and not containers of the powder. The 'ele is kept in lumps and only grated as required onto the surface of the siapo.

Soa'a (Musa sp., plantain) gives a purple dye. The trunk of the plant is cut through and the sap allowed to drip into a coconut-shell cup. It is used for painting and not rubbing.

Other dyes. Stair (33, p. 145) maintains that a black color was obtained by burying the article in the soft mud of a taro patch formed in a swamp. No information was obtained as to whether the material was subjected to any preparatory treatment with a bark infusion. The Maori of New Zealand used page 304black mud from swamps extensively in dyeing fibre and flax for their clothing, floor mats, and baskets but the material was first soaked in a preparation of pounded bark and water. In Aitutaki, Cook Islands, bark cloth was pressed down in the mud of a taro patch for two types of cloth. (See 39, pp. 82, 83.)

Dyes mentioned by early writers but not now in use are as follows:

Pritchard (24, p. 130) as his type material in describing the printing of patterns, states that the design was rubbed over with the reddish-brown juice obtained from the candlenut tree. It may be that he confused the candlenut tree with the reddish-brown juice obtained from the 'o'a. On the other hand, the Cook Islanders used a candlenut bark mixture (vavai hiri) in dyeing their cloth. One cloth termed pareu was soaked in the mixture and on drying assumed a reddish-brown color. It is curious, however, that the present Samoans, though asked about it, know nothing of its use in the past.

Stair (33, p. 145) states that, "A beautiful crimson was obtained by mixing the bark of the root of the nonu fi'afi'a, Malay apple (Eugenia Malaccensis) with sea water and lime."

Stair (33, p. 145) states that yellow was also obtained from the bark of the nonu, but ango and lenga seem to have completely displaced it. In the Cook Islands the root of the Morinda citrifolia, under the name of nono, was used as one of the sources of a yellow dye, and sea water was formerly used to brighten up the color.

Stair states that a brown was obtained "by mixing the inner bark of the pani with sea-water." Pratt (23, p. 233) gives pani as the name of a tree but does not give the scientific name. He also gives pani as a verb, to dye the hair with the juice of the pani.