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Ethnology of Tongareva


The craft of plaiting is still used in making such domestic necessities as roof sheets, wall screens, mats and baskets. The advent of Western culture has not appreciably affected the need for these articles. In the past plaiting also entered into the making of shoulder capes, as no form of weaving was used.

The materials used are lauhala (leaves of Pandanus; Tongarevan, rauhara) and coconut leaves. The Pandanus is evidently of one species which grows wild throughout the islands, and no particular species is cultivated, as in the Cook Islands. Lauhala floor mats are made, and the mention of them by Lamont (15, p. 114) proves that lauhala was used in plaiting before post-European contact with other islands. The fibers of the aerial roots are also used in conjunction with coconut leaflets in a particular form of mat. The coconut leaf (nikau) supplies the material for roof sheets, wall screens, baskets, and even some kinds of sleeping mats. The leaflets (kota) form convenient wefts; the midrib (pararaha) to which these are attached provides an already fixed commencent edge for the plaiting. In some articles the complete page 124 midrib (pararaha) is utilized, and in others a strip bearing the leaflets of one side is split off from the main midrib. The leaflets may be opened out to their full width during plaiting, or kept closed. The “open leaflet” wefts have the leaflet midrib running down the middle of the weft; they are wide; and the weft is the natural thickness of the leaflet. In the “closed leaflet” the leaflet midrib forms one edge of the weft, which is thus half the width of the open leaflet, but twice its thickness. The use of closed or open leaflets effects the plaiting technique and gives the craftswomen a certain freedom to create different articles for specific uses.