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Samoan Material Culture

Samoan Method of Dyeing Cloth

Samoan Method of Dyeing Cloth

The Samoans divide their present methods into two: tutusi or mamanu (painting) and elei (rubbing). The expression tutusi is the act of printing or drawing, and mamanu, the design obtained by painting. Pratt (23, p. 50) gives o'ai (to mark or paint siapo) and o'ainga (a marking of native cloth). He also gives o'ainga as a synonym of elci, but it is obvious that he was not clear in either the technique of the exact shade of meaning of the words. Dyeing by immersion was formerly practiced.

Dyeing by Immersion (fui). Cloth was formerly dyed red in the nonu dye and the process termed fuinonu. So, also, the cloth dyed black in pani was called fuipani, as was also the process. The method of immersing in the black mud of a taro swamp also comes under this heading. Pratt (23, p. 177) gives lufa as a large, black siapo and sema (23, p. 262) as a red one.

Painting (tutusi). Cloth painted freehand with a brush is called siapo tutusi or siapo mamanu. (See Pl. XXXIII, C, 1, 2.) The plain white cloth is pasted together to the required thickness and size. When ready for the brush, it is called tasinga. The materials required are a board, dyes, dye cups, and brushes.

The board (papa) is the same one used in pasting the sheets together.

The dyes, such as ango (yellow) and loa (red), are usually freshly made. The 'o'a and lama are kept in large, stoppered coconut shells. (See pupu 'o'a, Pl. XXXII, D, 1.)

Dye cups to contain the dyes for use are formed of large, half coconut shells, that are simply cleaned out and kept after use. (See Pl. XXXII, D, 2-5.) The brushes consist of four types:

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(1).The keys of the pandanus fruit that have fallen to the ground and become dry form neat natural brushes. The thicker outer part acts as a handle whilst the stiff fibres of the inner, smaller end are trimmed to form the brush. The amount of trimming is regulated by the thickness of the lines desired. They are called tusi from their use in drawing the tutusi patterns. They are used for drawing the finer lines or the outlines of figures.
(2).Larger tusi brushes are made of coconut husk (pulu), which is trimmed to suitable sizes. They are similar to the pulu brush used in applying breadfruit paste to stick the sheets together. Thicker lines and the spaces in between are filled in with such brushes.
(3).Larger brushes are also made by tying some strips of fau bast together (Pl. XXXII, A, 2, 3) or breaking the ends of a piece of coconut leaf midrib or cane to split up the fibrous material into a brush-like appearance.
(4).Cloth wipers (tata). A piece of siapo is folded and tied at one end to use as a daub or wiper for filling in wide spaces. This type is called tata. (See Pl. XXXII, A, 1.) Both brushes and wipers are sometimess called ale, probably when used to give a second coating of the dye.

The cloth is laid on the board, which gives it an even, hard surface to be stretched on. The painting is done in sections. The artist dips her tusi brush into the appropriate dye cup and deftly draws the outlines of the section design. The design is filled in with the various colors, each color having its own cup and brush. Some colors are given a second coating, to show them up. One coat of 'o'a gives a dull, red-brown color but a second coat gives it a varnished appearance. The second coat is called 'āle, or 'ale'o'a. The lama mixed with 'o'a gives a shiny black. A second coat is called talama. The (ordinary repainting of black cloth is called amoamo.

As one section is completed, another part is moved into position on the board. Large sheets of cloth are often spread out on the floor upon the mats. The part done is usually rolled or folded so that the artist may have her work before her as she sits cross-legged on the ground. The part spread out is weighted down with stones at the edges to prevent it being blown up by any breeze.

Some artists use a shell for scraping lightly over the painted design to trim it off.

The varieties of painted cloth are few as compared with those dyed by rubbing. They are easier to do by painting and there are probably more of them in circulation through trade than of the others. The varieties enumerated in Savaii are: lau'a tasi, the single sheet kilts worn by young men were usually painted or smeared over with 'o'a; taloa, the corresponding garment worn by young women of rank, but consists of two thicknesses of cloth; siapo mamanu, which class includes any cloth of three or more thicknesses, page 308which range in size from that suitable for kilts to very large sheets used as curtains. (See Pl. XXXIII, C, 1,2.)

Rubbing. In dyeing cloth by the elei method of rubbing the process must commence with the thin lau'a sheets. The rubbing and the pasting proceed together until the siapo cloth is completed. In addition to the requisite quantity of lau'a, the materials required are a board, design tablets, dyes, paste, dye daub, and paste brush.

Board (papa elei). The board is the same large slab used in painting. It must be wider than the design tablet and is now called papa elei from its function. Being usually formed from the side of an old dugout canoe, it has an outward convexity transverse to its long axis. (See Pl. XXXIV, B.)

Design tablets (upeti). The original tablets were constructed on a foundation of pandanus leaves. Some of them are still in use but they are being supplanted by the more modern article made of wood.

The tablet of pandanus leaves is called upeti fala, though the kind of pandanus preferred is the paongo, which has larger leaves than the fala.

A typical tablet (Pl. XXXIV, A) is made of two layers of leaves. The lower layer consists of 36-inch lengths of 4 leaves and a narrower strip, laid together with overlapping edges stitched together with fan bast. The upper layer consists of 15.75 inch lengths laid transversely to the long axis of the lower layer. The design is in 4 distinct sections, each of which is dealt with separately. The design material consists of pandanus strips and two-ply twisted cords of sennit fibre. The pandanus strips, one leaf thick and 3 to 6 mm. wide, are used in the design to form vertical panels separating the sections and are also placed horizontally and obliquely to divide the sections into smaller areas. The pandanus strips are laid in position on the leaves of the upper layer of one section and stitched to it with loops which pass through that layer alone. The section is then laid in position on the lower layer and the sennit cord elements of the design are stitched in position, through both layers of the tablet. Each section is treated in turn from the left. The stitches of the pandanus strip therefore keep the leaves of the upper layer together while those of the cords bind both layers together. The pandanus elements in straight or zigzag strips map out the design into smaller areas which are filled in by parallel lines of cord arranged in horizontal or oblique sets. The pandanus strips are stitched to the upper layer with single thick sennit fibres or with fine twists of two fibres which look like fine copper wire. The stitches over the cord elements are of fau bast, while here and there, a strip of the same material is passed over the pandanus strip and through both layers of the tablet. The tablet is finished off with a piece of sennit braid stitched around the upper surface close to the edges, forming loops at both long edges and ending at a corner with a coiled length.

Some upeti are smaller than the one described and the designs on them vary but all are rectilinear. The tablet, being soft and yielding, is of no use unless it can be fixed firmly to some solid material that will give it support.

Setting up the design tablet. The tablet is laid longitudinally on the long axis of the board on its convex outer surface. The sennit coil at the rights lower corner (Pl. XXXIV, A) is untied and stretched across the under surface of the board to pass through the loop opposite. The loop is drawn taut on the under surface of the board and the braid brought back to the next loop on the near edge. In this manner, the braid zigzags from loop to page 309loop alternately from side to side until all the loops are drawn taut, when it is tied to the last loop. By this means, the tablet is drawn down on the board without a crease and firmly fixed in position. (See Pl. XXXIV, B.) The design is fixed to the wood as if it had been carved on it.

The pandanus tablet is the invention of a people who did not have the tools or the skill to cut out elaborate designs in wood. They added the design to the leaves in the technique possible to them. After the advent of steel tools, however, the designs were cut on the wood (papa) with the superior tools available to form wooden tablets (upeti papa). The wood used is usually part of the side of an old dugout so that they are usually convex over the short axis. (See Pl. XXXIV, C.) The same rectilinear designs were used in the older forms but with the more modern make on ordinary straight boards, curves have been introduced. Through the comparative ease with which wooden tablets may be made and their longer life, the pandanus tablet is being gradually abandoned in favor of the modern article.

Technique of rubbing. The upeti is placed on the ground with its length transverse. Beside it are placed a pile of lauu'a sheets, a dye cup with the 'o'a dye, a tata wiper of bark cloth, a lump of red earth, a shell grater, a tuber of cooked arrowroot, and some sharp-edged strips of bamboo.

A single sheet of lauu'a is spread over the tablet with its wider butt end towards the worker. The left side is adjusted to leave a clear margin beyond the left edge of the tablet. The near end edge of the sheet is similarly adjusted to the near edge of the tablet. The sheet is not as wide as the transverse length of the tablet so another sheet must be added, but with its narrow end reversed towards the worker. The right edge of the first sheet is rubbed with the cooked arrowroot paste for about an inch deep along the part of the edge that rests on the tablet. The left edge of the second sheet is placed over the pasted part and rubbed smoothly with the tata wiper to stick them together. A third sheet is usually necessary to cover the remaining part of the tablet and leave some spare material to the right. It is reversed with the broad end proximal and stuck by pasting the right edge of the second sheet. (See fig. 167, also Pl. XXXIII, B.)

The red 'ele earth is used to brighten up the 'o'a color. The mangeo shell grater is held above the cloth and the lump of red earth rubbed against its rough outer surface. The grater is moved about so as to sprinkle the powder evenly over the surface of the design. The tata wiper is rubbed over the surface and the brick-red powder sticks to the wet surface and brightens up the color. When the design is sufficiently clear on the first layer of sheets, another layer is added above it.

The area of the design is rubbed over with the moistened arrowroot, care being taken to restrict the pasted area to the actual area of the design. A sheet of white lauu'a is laid on the left side above the first sheet. It is page 310immaterial whether it is narrower or wider so long as the left edges are made to coincide. Its right edge is then rubbed with the paste over the width of the design and a second sheet placed in position. A third sheet follows, the method of alternately reversing the ends being followed as with the first layer. The three sheets of tse second layer are then rubbed evenly with the tata wiper to make them adhere to the first layer. The wiper is dipped in the
Figure 167.—Rubbing bark cloth on tablet:

Figure 167.—Rubbing bark cloth on tablet:

a, three sheets placed on the tablet with the near end of the third sheet turned up to show part of the tablet tied to the board below; b, the tata wiper is dipped in the 'o'a dye and rubbed over the sheets in even strokes to press them firmly down on the raised design of the tablet. Commencing on the left, each part is rubbed to bring out the portions of the design on the upper surface of the sheets, the colored lines corresponding to the raised parts on the tablet.

'o'a dye and the design brought out on the second layer by rubbing. If thin cloth is desired, the process may stop with the addition of the second layer of sheets. For thicker cloth, a third layer is added in exactly the same way as the other two. The last layer usually gets a more careful rubbing and a more liberal sprinkling of red earth. The rubbing of each layer is, of course, to make the sheets lie down close to conform with the ridges and depressions of the design. The dye which damps the cloth enables this to be done. If each layer were not done, the design would not come out clearly on the surface of the upper layer. The dye also soaks through the cloth and not only shows up the design on the under surface of the first layer but also stains the tablet. As pointed out before, it is this staining which filters through the layers of cloth that gave the idea that the dye had been directly applied to the tablet.

The completed first section is rolled back to the left and after manipulating the right edge of the design on the cloth to coincide with the left edge of the frame, the rolled part is anchored in position by placing stones on it. The extra material beyond the right edge of the dyed part is now on the tablet. The sheets of the middle and upper layers are folded back to the left and kept there with a stone leaving the lower layer alone on the tablet. Remember that the three layers are only stuck together as far as the right edge of the design. The lowest layer sheet is smoothed out evenly on the tablet and its right edge rubbed with arrowroot for the depth of the tablet. Another sheet of lauu'a is joined to it and another to the right of that until the page 311tablet surface is covered. The design is brought out on the first layer by rubbing and then it is covered with paste. The second layer sheet is loosened from under the stone and turned in over the tablet. The second layer is completed, rubbed and pasted. The upper layer sheet is then turned in over the tablet from the left and the third layer completed. After rubbing with 'o'a and red earth, the second section is complete. In this manner by successive sections added to the right, the desired length is obtained. Some women may start from the right and work to the left. In large sheets, the measure is always the number of upeti or tablet lengths.

Depth is obtained by adding successive rows of rubbing to the first row. It is now better to unroll the completed part which has been rolled parallel with the left edge. It is rolled again from the proximal edge. On the left, this brings in the first section rubbed until its far transverse edge coincides with the near edge of the tablet. The free parts of the two upper layers are folded back proximally and the sheets of the lowest layer are spread out on the tablet. The overlap of the individual sheets are pasted together at their side edges for the depth of the design. If there is any gap between individual sheets in the same layer, a fresh piece is cut to size with the bamboo knife and pasted in to fill the gap. So also any trimming of frayed edges is done with the bamboo knife. The first layer being satisfactorily arranged it is rubbed with dye and then pasted. The sheets of the second layer are then turned forward individually and stuck to the first layer. Any holes or gaps are remedied so as to maintain an even thickness in the cloth. The second layer is rubbed and pasted, the third layer is turned forward and carefully rubbed. This completes the first section of the second row. The material is pulled to the left and successive sections added on the right until the full length is secured. The only difference to the first row is that the near edge is stuck together as well as the left. Care must therefore be exercised in getting paste down into the left-hand corner of each new section so as to stick the sheets evenly together. Successive rows are added until the depth is secured. In arranging the lower layer of each new section, the edges must be carefully adjusted to make the design continuous without any breaks between the tablet areas.

The technique of increasing length and depth is the same as in preparing plain cloth for painting, but the layers are adjusted to the smaller area of the tablet and each layer is rubbed with the dye before paste is added. The above detail should dispel the error that the dye tablets were used as printing frames with the dye directly applied to the design and thence stamped on the cloth.

The tata wiper served as both paint brush and brush for smoothing out the sheets laid on the paste. Samuel Ella (11, p. 168), after adhering to the fallacy that the upeti was rubbed directly with the dye, states that the cloth was pressed and beaten down with the hands and with a betel (beater). On page 312the numerous occasions when I watched the tablet being used, the firm rubbing strokes with the wiper were quite sufficient to bring the design out distinctly. The use of the beater was never mentioned. The small i'e tusi tusi as already mentioned may, however, have had such a use.

The upper surface of the completed cloth is in one color. The lines are less sharply defined at the edges than in painting, and a certain amount of smudging may be seen in the lighter areas between the colored lines. The design may be enhanced by painting over some of the wider lines when they show up with the brighter varnished color that a second coat of 'o'a gives. Parts may also be gone over in black, which gives a brighter varnished appearance because the black lama is mixed with 'o'a as a vehicle for the color. Apart from the close, red-brown background that rubbing with 'o'a gives, rubbed siapo (elei) can always be recognized by the same, though lighter, design appearing through on the under surface. (See Pl. XXXIII, C, 3, 4.)