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The Coming of the Maori

The Introduction of Bark Cloth

The Introduction of Bark Cloth

The settlers of the Fleet period brought the paper mulberry plant with the central Polynesian name of aute which was applied to both the plant and the cloth made from it. Its growth, however, was restricted by climatic conditions to the northern part of the North Island. On the east coast, it was cultivated as far south as Hawkes Bay and the place name of Te Aute is said to commemorate an unsuccessful attempt to grow the plant in that locality. It was actually manufactured into cloth for loincloths as traditional references mention the maro aute. It was also used for kites (manu aute), ear ornaments (whakakai) and other minor objects. Tradition is supported by the discovery of two four-sided beaters with longitudinal grooves which were dredged up from under seven feet of gravel in the Whangarei Harbour (91, p. 10). These valuable artifacts were made of local wood and are now preserved in the Auckland Museum (Fig. 25).

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Tradition states that experiments were tried with local plants such as the houhi (Houheria populnea) but no satisfactory substitute was found.

However, the supply of bark cloth was not only limited in quantity and distribution but the material proved unsatisfactory in the more rigorous climate of New Zealand. The settlers of the Fleet were forced to abandon their introduced paper mulberry as an adequate source for clothing material. They followed the example of their predecessors in using flax and at first they probably made their garments by the process of plaiting. Any continued manufacture of bark cloth in the north was a matter of sentiment rather than utility. Some specimens of bark cloth collected by early navigators and attributed to New Zealand, have been labelled inaccurately, for some that I saw at the British Museum bore the
Fig. 25. Maori tapa beaters (Auckland Mus.)

Fig. 25. Maori tapa beaters (Auckland Mus.)

obvious coloured designs of Hawaii. How long the plaiting technique was continued, it is impossible to tell. Certain it is that the attention devoted to flax resulted in local developments which changed the clothing technique from plaiting to a form of weaving.