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The Coming of the Maori



In Polynesia, the simplest type of rough mat is made from a section of split coconut leaf, as already described. The early settlers of New Zealand must have been well acquainted with the Polynesian coconut-leaf technique and they probably applied it to the leaves of the local nikau until they changed to the better material supplied by flax.

Fig. 21. Mat braid commencement.a, beginning; b, development.

Fig. 21. Mat braid commencement.
a, beginning; b, development.

The leaf of the New Zealand flax is very similar in some respects to the leaf of the pandanus for each is long and broad with a median midrib forming a keel between the two halves of the blade. Each has a shiny upper surface with a dull under surface and it is the shiny surface that forms the upper surface of mats or the outer surface of baskets. In using the leaves, the thin outer edges and the midribs, which are prickly in the pandanus, are split off and discarded. Thus the material for splitting into strips to form wefts is provided by the half leaves. Flax proved suitable for making the rough mats previously made of coconut leaf and the superior mats formerly made of pandanus but the flax was treated differ ently in the two types of mat.

Rough floor mats (pokipoki, taka) and oven covers (tapora) are made of green flax split into individual wefts with the thumb nail and with the butt ends scraped with a shell to clear a tuft of fibre. The fibrous tufts are braided (whiri) in three-ply, the wefts being added on one side only page 150of the braid (Fig. 21). The braid is continued for the proposed length of the mat and ended with an overhand knot. The braid takes the place of the leaf midrib in the coconut-leaf technique and plaiting (raranga) follows the same technique. Commencing on the left, the wefts are divided alternately into dextrals and sinistrals as the plaiting proceeds along the braid commencement edge. The left edge is built up to provide an oblique working edge with six or eight working dextrals and at the end of the braid, the plaiting section is completed by turning in the projecting dextrals to form the right edge. When the depth of the mat is obtained, the far edge is finished off in two ways. The oven covers follow the coconut-leaf technique by including the free ends of the dextrals and sinistrals in a three-ply braid which is ended with an overhand knot. The floor mats, however, follow in principle the more complicated finish used in pandanus mats. As shown in Figure 20b, the principle consists of turning down the top dextrals into the working sheds of the last section
Fig. 22. Mat commencement.a, unsplit butt; b, single weft.

Fig. 22. Mat commencement.
a, unsplit butt; b, single weft.

and so defining the top edge by the right-angled bends of the dextrals. In the Maori technique termed tapiki or kopetipeti, both the top dextral and the free end of the sinistral in the shed are turned down. This method of treating the dextrals and sinistrals in pairs was also observed in the taviri technique of the Cook Islands (93, p. 109). However, it differs slightly from the Maori tapiki technique which is described with sleeping mats.

Sleeping mats (takapau, porera) are made of flax which is treated by light scraping with a shell to remove some of the green colouring matter and then subjected to heat by passing it quickly to and fro over a fire or by the modern method of boiling in a kerosene tin. The flax becomes softer and whiter. Leaves of kiekie are treated similarly and provide wefts which are whiter but more brittle than flax.

The braid commencement of floor mats is not used and consequently the weft ends are not scraped. A Whanganui form of commencement (89, Pl. 81, Fig. 1) resembles the Cook Islands technique (93, p. 108) in using page 151unsplit butt portions, but each butt portion contains only two wefts, one used as a sinistral and the other as a dextral. Butt portions, dyed black, were alternated with the undyed material to form a check pattern (Fig. 22a). The unsplit butts were left for the last.

Another commencement with single wefts is illustrated by Figure 22b. After the corner is formed, two fresh wefts are laid in the working shed, and the top working dextral (D.1) is crossed over them. The uppermost weft in the shed (D) is doubled back over the crossing dextral (D.1) and the under weft (S) is left down to form the added sinistral as shown by the stippled wefts in the Figure. After the other working dextrals are
Fig. 23. Maori mat joins.a, joining dextrals; b, joining sinistrals; c, combination join.

Fig. 23. Maori mat joins.
a, joining dextrals; b, joining sinistrals; c, combination join.

crossed over the shed, the long end of the doubled-back weft (D) projects below the lowest crossing dextral. When the two new wefts are laid in the next shed, the long end of the turned-back weft is bent at right angles to pass under the new pair to function as the added dextral. This move is shown by the preceding weft (D.7).

The sleeping mats are longer and wider than the floor mats and additional wefts have to be joined on to complete the length. The Maori join (hono, maurua) differs from the Polynesian join (Fig. 20a) in that the ends of the old wefts are turned back in the working shed and locked in position by crossing dextrals. New dextral wefts (Fig. 23a) are added first by laying the new dextral (D.1) on an old dextral and pushing its stiff butt end under two crossing sinistrals. The plaiting proceeds until the new dextral is crossed by two more sinistrals. The old dextral (D.2) is drawn out from beneath the new one, given a right-angled turn to the right, and laid in the working shed where it is fixed by the next plaiting movement. In Figure 23a, the new dextrals are stippled.

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New sinistrals are added by laying them on the old sinistrals in the working shed. The old sinistral is twisted up from underneath to lie on the new sinistral in the upper part of the shed as shown in Figure 23b. The top raised dextral (D.1) of the working set is laid across the shed to fix the old sinistral (S.1) which is then doubled back over the crossing dextral to assume a downward direction in the shed. The other working dextrals complete the movement. In the Figure, the new sinistrals are stippled and the doubled-back ends of the old sinistrals lying upon them are white.

The combination of the two joins is shown in Figure 23c, starting with the dextrals below and followed by the sinistrals above. In the particular specimen studied, the turned-back old sinistrals are crossed by one crossing weft only (D.2) and the ends are left free for about 1¼ inches before being cut off. The free lower ends of the new dextrals and sinistrals with the turned-back ends of the old dextrals and sinistrals form a thick fringe of four layers. Hence the join is made with the under surface uppermost to conceal the fringed join when the mat is turned over for use.

The join is commenced a short distance in from the left edge and ended before reaching the right edge to avoid technical difficulties with the side edges. The old sinistrals on the left, which have not been reinforced, are continued to the left edge, turned inwards as dextrals, and when all are clear of the side edge, they are reinforced by a short dextral join beyond the main join. Similarly, the unreinforced dextrals on the right turn the right edge as sinistrals and are reinforced by a short sinistral join. Thus Maori sleeping mats have two short joins to complete the main join and the thick layer of weft ends offers a marked difference, both in technique and appearance, to the smooth, flat Polynesian join.

The finishing process at the far edge is the tapiki technique copied in floor mats. It is a combination on the same level of the methods of disposing of the ends of the old dextrals and sinistrals in the mat join (Fig. 23c). In Figure 24a, after the working edge has been built up and the top left corner defined by doubling back the top sinistral (x), the plaiting movements are illustrated on the right side of the Figure. The top working dextral (D.1) is passed behind the sinistral in the shed (S.1) and turned down in the shed on the old sinistral. The next dextral (D.2) is brought across the shed and the free end of the old sinistral (S.1) is doubled back over it to lie in the shed. The other working dextrals complete the movement and form the shed for the next sinistral. The free ends of the sinistrals (S) and the dextrals (D) are cut off below the lowest crossing dextrals.

An additional finish termed hiki is often used as further security against unravelling. The doubled-back dextral and sinistral ends below the last crossing wefts in the tapiki finish are left long and plaited in a page 153four-ply braid as shown in Figure 24b. Each double weft is turned down successively behind the braid and cut off below it as shown in the Figure. The unsplit butt portions at the commencement edge (Fig. 22d) are dealt with last. With the underside uppermost, the butt portions are split into their respective free wefts. The left side is built up into a working edge and the tapiki finish carried out with the same technique as in the far edge (Fig. 24a).

Fig. 24. Maori mat finishes.a, tapiki; b, hiki.

Fig. 24. Maori mat finishes.
a, tapiki; b, hiki.