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The Coming of the Maori


When the ancestors of the maori were living in central Polynesia, they required little in the way of clothing beyond what was dictated by the feelings of modesty. When the early settlers arrived in New Zealand, it is to be assumed that they were wearing the type of garments that were in vogue in central Polynesia at the time of leaving. There is no reason to believe that the types of essential garments underwent any change in the homeland during the centuries that followed the separation for the climatic conditions did not change and the raw material was always available.

A comparative study of Polynesian clothing reveals that the garments for ordinary wear consisted of a loincloth for men and a skirt for women, though varying developments have taken place in garments and head-dresses for festive occasions, for chiefly regalia, and for some priestly ceremonies. The men's loincloth, termed mano or malo, was a long strip of material, ten to twelve inches wide, which was passed backwards between the thighs to cover the genitals and then wound around the waist for support. The women's skirt, termed pareu in the Cook and Society Islands, was a wider piece of material wound around the waist and descending to above the knees for single girls and below the knees for married women.

The materials of which the loincloth and skirt were made differed in volcanic islands and atolls. In volcanic islands, they were made of bark cloth beaten from the inner bark of the introduced paper mulberry termed aute in central Polynesia. In atolls where the paper mulberry would not grow, the loincloth was plaited as a long band from pandanus leaf. In Rakahanga atoll (96, p. 136), the term maro included two types of plaited loincloth, a short and a long. The short type, specifically termed mahere, was passed between the legs and kept up by a length of sennit passed around the waist, the ends then hanging down over the belt. This type page 159was used for everyday wear. The long type termed taoa was used on social occasions, and was decorated with overlaid plaiting in colour and the ends with fringes of finely split bast. The old one that I saw was 22 feet 5 inches long, 10.5 inches wide in the middle, and 14.5 inches at the ends. After being passed between the legs, it was wound around the waist.

The skirt in atolls was made of shredded coconut leaflets which hung down from a braided waist band. This was the everyday garment. An alternate form was plaited from pandanus leaves to form a kilt or short skirt and was used on social occasions.

As protection for the body against the cool of the evening, a piece of bark cloth was wrapped around the shoulders and in central Polynesia, this developed after the Maori ancestors left into a poncho-like garment termed a tiputa in which a hole (puta) was made for the head so that the rectangular piece of cloth hung down from the neck to cover the front and the back of the body. In atolls, a cape was plaited with coconut leaflets and well-made specimens from Tongareva (Penrhyn) collected by the Wilkes Expedition are preserved in the United States National Museum at Washington.