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The Coming of the Maori

Flax Baskets

Flax Baskets

The early settlers in substituting flax for nikau leaf lost the advantage of the midrib commencement and had to find a method for combining the individual flax wefts into some other form of commencement edge. The problem was solved in the same way as in the flax mats by using a braid commencement. The scraped butt ends of the wefts were plaited into a three-ply braid, but with this difference, the wefts were added alternately on each side. On reaching the required length of the basket, the braid was secured by an overhand knot. The braid (whiri) thus reached the opening stage of the coconut-leaf midrib with its bilateral leaflets.

The body of the basket was plaited to the desired depth by the same technique used with coconut-leaf baskets. However, as the commencement braid could not be split to form a rim opening, it had to remain as the bottom of the basket. Consequently, the continuous edge where thepage 155plaiting ceased had to form the rim. The free weft ends, both sinistral and dextral, were plaited in a three-ply braid which fixed the plaiting edge and formed a finished rim.

Baskets made of green flax by the process described were used for carrying food of various kinds and served all the purposes of coconut-leaf baskets in Polynesia but they were much stronger and lasted longer. A superior type of basket is made of flax prepared in the same way as for sleeping mats. They correspond to the Polynesian baskets made of pandanus. The mats and baskets made of green flax have spaces between the wefts owing to shrinkage by drying, but the sleeping mats and baskets made of treated flax do not shrink and the wefts remain in close contact at their edges. Both flax and pandanus baskets are plaited in a sheet of the required depth and the ends joined as in the coconut-leaf baskets made with a split midrib. The plaiting forms a complete cuff with free weft ends at the upper and lower edges. The cuff is turned inside out and the free weft ends at the lower edge plaited together either as a braid or some form of tapiki finish. In others again, the butt ends of the wefts are scraped and the braid commencement of green flax baskets is used. The upper edge of the plaiting is finished off as is the rim by a number of techniques such as a three-ply braid (whiri toru), four-ply braid (whirl tuamaka) the sleeping mat finish (tapiki), and a serrated edge (whakakitaratara), which are described in my paper on plaiting (89, p. 737). These techniques with the exception perhaps of the four-ply braid are used in Polynesia with pandanus baskets. Many of the Maori techniques have yet to be described in detail. After finishing the basket, it is turned inside out again so that the cut-off ends in some of the finishes do not show on the outside.

The handles of the baskets are formed of plaited loops, one on the middle of each side. Some green flax baskets are provided with a number of loops along the braid rim on each side which are used for lacing the top of the basket when filled to overflowing capacity.

A very useful plaited article was made for containing cooked food, enough for one or two guests. It was made with wide wefts of unsplit half blades of flax (89, p. 726). It is named kono or rourou and takes the place of the raurau food containers of central Polynesia which were made of coconut leaflets.