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Ethnology of Tongareva

Coconut Sheets, Screens, and Mats

page 128

Coconut Sheets, Screens, and Mats

For the coconut leaf roof sheet the leaf is cut into 5- or 6-foot sections and split down the middle of the midrib. The half leaf from the left side of the leaf is plaited from the left in the conventional way, as the leaflets form natural dextrals. The open leaflets are plaited in check for a depth of about ten inches, the side edges being turned in by the half-turn method. The far edge of the plaiting is formed by the simple crossing of the wefts. Sheets from the right side of the leaf are plaited from right to left, as the natural direction of the leaflets is sinistral. The right hand arranges them into sets of working sinistrals which form the plaiting edge, and the left hand bends the alternate leaflets in from the midrib edge to rest in the shed formed. The method is the same as that used in the Cook Islands and Samoa (29, p. 170).

The single wall screen (pataro) is made of a section of coconut leaf 3 or 4 feet long, with the leaflets left intact on either side. The commencement is the full leaf commencement (fig. 13) in check, but after one row of dextral checks the plaiting stroke is changed to a twilled-two in horizontal rows. The side edges are turned in with a half turn (fig. 13, c). The leaflets are kept closed, and the leaflet midribs form the right edges of both dextral and sinistral wefts. On reaching a depth of ten inches and after the twilled plait has been changed to two rows of check, the leaflet ends are finished off with a single three-ply braid. (For technical details of single three-ply braid finish see 29, p. 182.)

The double wall screen (pataro mangarua) is made by plaiting two wall screens of the single pataro type described above, but leaving the wefts free at the far edge when the depth is secured. The two sheets are then placed side by side with their unfinished far edges together in a line longitudinal to the worker. Of the two sets of crossing wefts that form the edges on either side, one set will be directed toward the worker. Commencing with those at the far end, the proximally directed wefts are plaited alternately from either side into a three-ply braid, and the wefts directed away from the worker are temporarily disregarded. When the braid reaches the near end, the wefts are continued on as a free tail and fixed with an overhand knot. The ends of the plaiting are now reversed, and the remaining set of free wefts on either side will be found to be directed toward the worker. A second braid is commenced at the far end, and the free wefts added alternately from either side. At the near end the wefts are continued on in a free braid tail which is tied at the end with an overhand knot. The braid tails at either end are doubled back under the plaiting, passed through under some of the wefts, and tucked away. (See pl. 2, A.)

The sitting mat (tapakau) is made from a coconut leaf section about 2 feet 6 inches long. The leaflet-bearing strips are separated from either side page 129 and the leaflets twisted over each other at the midrib strip as shown in figure 14. The strip with the natural sinistral wefts is placed above the other and fixed together by two rows of check. The body of the mat is plaited in horizontal twilled-twos, and the side edges are formed by turning in the wefts without twisting up the other surface. When the plaiting reaches a depth of about 15 inches the far edge is finished off with a three-ply braid made in one course. The end of the braid is continued as a free tail, fixed with an overhand knot, and tucked back through the plaiting. (See pl. 3.) Most mats are made of two separate strips from opposite sides of the leaf; but a strip double the length of the mat may be split off from one side of the leaf, and after the leaflets have been twisted the strip is doubled on itself to provide the crossing wefts. The tapakau is a short mat, and the tokotua back rest is used with it. This was the mat which Lamont says was used in the open spaces before the houses. Mats are also spread in numbers on the floors of houses, and the sleeping mat is laid on top of them.

The oven cover mat (toto umu) is made exactly like the sitting mat, except that some are shorter and deeper. (See pl. 2, B, C.) It is used as a cover (tapoki) over food that is placed in the oven (umu).

The sleeping mat (pakere rei) is the best coconut leaf mat made. None was obtained, but I was informed that it is exactly similar in technique to the Manihiki tapakau, made as follows:

Lengths of the younger aerial roots of the hala (Pandanus) are cooked in an oven and then chewed to separate the fibrous material. The fibrous material is dried in the sun and used to commence a three-ply braid. Coconut leaflets are jerked off from the sides of the leaf so as to leave strips of the fibrous midrib attached at their butt ends. The leaflets are kept closed, and the free edges are split off with the thumbnail to form narrower closed leaflet wefts. The butt end strip of the wefts is added to the three-ply braid of hala fiber, a weft being added alternately on either side as the braid ply comes in from that side. The butt strips are long enough to be included in the plies and so fix the wefts to a mesial braid keel, much like the initial commencing braid in baskets and certain mats in New Zealand. As the wefts are added, the midrib edges are kept always to the one side. The wefts are added to the mesial braid for the required length. The braid is continued as a free tail for a short distance and then knotted.

The keel is laid transversely in front of the plaiter, and the wefts on the far side are plaited in check for a couple of rows. The body is then plaited in twilled-twos, and the edges are formed by the direct bends without turning over the other surface. As the depth is approached the plaiting stroke changes to a check for a few rows. The finishing edge is formed by a single three-ply braid. The mat is then turned, and the wefts on the other side of the mesial braid are plaited to form a section similar to the first, with a single braid finishing edge. In the Manihiki mat the mesial braid is 45 inches long and the mat is 23.5 inches deep on either side.

The mat is well made and neat in appearance. It is spread over the ordinary tapakau sitting mats and used at night as a bed.