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Official Guide to the Government Court: N.Z. Centennial Exhibition

External Affairs Department

External Affairs Department

Samoan Exhibits.

The Samoan exhibits are examples of a craftsmanship which is common to 60,000 Samoans to-day; it is an interesting fact that the material culture of these people has, despite contact with Western culture, remained almost entirely unchanged.

The focal exhibit is a fale (house), two-thirds to one-half the usual size, which is made entirely from native timbers, lashed together with sinnet braided from coconut husk, and thatched with leaves of sugar-cane. Two of the Samoan attendants at page 9 the Exhibition constructed the fale in tropical Samoa, and have re-erected it in the Government Court. This fale is almost, but not quite, circular, and is distinct from the dwelling fale, which has parallel sides, with rounded ends. The circular fale is used by a matai, or head of family, to receive his guests or meet in council the heads of other families.

Other exhibits of special interest as typifying Samoan life and everyday customs are:—

The kava bowls. Kava is a non-intoxicating drink made from the root of a cultivated plant (piper methysticum), which is dried, pounded, and kneaded with water. Much ritual attends the serving of kava, it being the ceremonial drink which is the first medium of hospitality to guests, and with which formal meetings are commenced or concluded. Each recipient, upon being served, has his name, or his "kava cup name", proclaimed by the presiding distributor, social precedence being indicated both by acclamation and in the order of distribution. The bowls are each cut out of a solid section of the tree—a native hardwood. The drinking cups are polished lower halves of coconut shells.

Fine mats are plaited from fine strips of pandanus leaf in double wefts, and ornamented with red feathers from the Fijian parrakeet. As a garment, they are worn on ceremonial occasions to denote rank, but a greater significance is that they provide the most valued formal means of exchange, and fulfil a part comparable with that of currency. Exchange of fine mats, in numbers proportionate to the rank of those involved, occurs on occasions such as births, deaths, or elections to titles, and so the mats are in constant circulation.

The staff and whisk are the symbols of office of an orator, especially carried during ceremonies on the village meeting-place, or malae.

The outrigger canoe is a special type, built from planks (as distinct from the ordinary dug-out log canoe), to give the lightness and speed needed in fishing for bonito in deep water. The model exhibited is about two-thirds the usual dimensions. It is fitted with attachments on which to rest the bamboo rod with its barb-less hooks of turtle and pearl shell.

A full description of the articles on exhibition is provided in "Samoan Material Culture", by Te Rangi Hiroa (New Zealand's Dr. P. H. Buck), Bulletin No. 75, published by the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Hawaii.

The produce of Samoa on exhibition is from the New Zealand Reparation Estates. The copra represents the best grade of South Seas copra, being equal to that from Ceylon, which is regarded as the world's standard. The cocoa pods and dried cocoa beans are a Crillo Forestera hybrid, which has been found particularly suited to Samoan conditions, and combines the best characteristics of each variety. Samoan cocoa is of a very high standard and is specially suited for blending purposes. The rubber is the usual smoked sheet which, for marketing purposes, is packed in cases of three-ply, each containing 224lb. Rubber-tapping knives, spouts, and cups are also on exhibition.

Cook Islands Exhibits.

The Cook Islands exhibits, when compared with those of Samoa, show an interesting distinction in material cultures. The Samoa exhibits are examples of a culture little changed since the advent of the European, while the exhibits of the Cook Islands show definite Western influence.

The baskets, hats, fans, bead-work, inlaid pearl-shell work, etc., of the Cook Islands, although of post-missionary origin, are nevertheless essentially Polynesian in page 10 technique, and have been adopted and varied in the local culture. It might be said that these specimens are now more representative of the craftsmanship of the Cook Islander than the more spectacular spears and clubs on exhibition.

It must not be imagined that the Cook Islander has abandoned any part of his old culture, which is still of use -to him. Mats, paddles, pearl-shell hooks, fish traps, etc., similar to those on display and which have descended unchanged from the old, pre-European culture, are still in everyday use.

The exhibits are representative of all islands of the group and those interested in material culture will find local variations expressive of the materials and usages of the people of the different islands. For example, it will be noted that considerable skill in the use of pearl-shell for decorative purposes has been acquired by the islanders of the northern atolls.