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The Atoll of Funafuti, Ellice group : its zoology, botany, ethnology and general structure based on collections made by Charles Hedley of the Australian Museum, Sydney, N.S.W.


page 245


The skill of the Polynesians in plaiting has already been shown by various articles discussed in this essay, and this aptitude is further exemplified by their eye-shades. In the case of this object I am beset by the usual difficulty encountered in the study of the lesser possessions of the Polynesians. Consequent on few writers having descended to the notice of such apparent trifles, there are but scanty records available of variation or of geographical distribution.

The Polynesian eye-shade appears to have been adopted by the Melanesians, for Edge-Partington pictures it from Papua,* and it is frequently recorded from the Solomons. Dr. H. B. Guppy observed that "sunshades in the form of a peak of plaited grass bound to the forehead and projecting over the eyes are occasionally worn by the natives of Bougainville Straits, whilst fishing in canoes, in order to protect their eyes from the sun's glare on the water. In Ugi, these sun-shades are sometimes worn on gala days. They did not, however, appear to be in constant use in any part of the group which we visited." This account is illustrated by a photograph of "Men of Ugi wearing sun-shades." Woodford pictures a Rubiana native wearing one. From Savo there is a specimen in the Australian Museum, and Edge-Partington figures others from Ysabel and San Christoval.§

Wilkes shows some of the individuals of a group of Fakaafu natives wearing the eye-shade, and at Atafu the men wore "on their head a piece, made in some cases of matting, in others of tortoiseshell, and occasionally this ornament resembled an eye-shade, or the front of a cap, to protect the face from the sun." A sketch by Webber, in the British Museum, is reproduced by Edge-Partington, showing Tahitian women making bark cloth, two of the figures in which are wearing sun-shades. "A sun-shade from Tahiti made of finely plaited coconut fibre" is also drawn separately. "Here, says Ellis, it is called 'taupoo,' or 'taumata.'" **

The eye-shade of Funafuti, "mataili," was only used when line fishing from a canoe. It was plaited indifferently from coconut palm frond or pandanus leaf, was thrown away at the end of the day's work and made anew as wanted. The specimens that I have examined of the eye-shades of the Solomon natives are all of coconut frond, they differ from the Ellice Island pattern in having page 246the loop, which passes round the back of the head, made in one piece instead of being in two strings knotted together; also in having the front margin projecting into horns at the corners, which Mr. N. Hardy suggests to me are ornamental representations of the wings of Frigate Birds. On some of the other atolls of the group, Mr. O'Brien tells me that small pouches for the reception of fish-hooks, etc., were made on the under surface of the flap. On Funafuti the natives had a trick of thrusting such sundries as a stick of trade tobacco into the plaits of their eye-shades.

Fig. 11.

Fig. 11.

Two specimens of the eye-shade from Funafuti present themselves for description. Both are of woven pandanus leaf; the larger shown in fig. 11 is fifteen inches ounce and a quarter, by six, and weighs an it is coarsely plaited, of about nine, broad, diagonal pandanus strands, an inch or an inch and a half wide; from the inner margin the strands are carried in a band and knotted at the back of the head, so as to form a loop about a foot long. The smaller example is about twelve by four and a half inches, of finer pandanus strands, there being about thirty rows of quarter inch plaits; the weight of it is half an ounce. The smaller figure is a sketch, taken on the spot, of a palm frond tip which I saw a native in process of weaving into an eye-shade.

* Edge-Partington—loc. cit., i., pl. cccvii., fig. 6 and pl. cccxxv., fig. 4; see also: Ratzel—The History of Mankind (English ed.) i., 1896, plate facing p. 214, fig. 15, and p. 224.

Guppy—loc. cit., p. 139, and pl. facing p. 102.

Woodford—A Naturalist among the Head-hunters, 1890, p. 150.

§ Edge-Partington—loc. cit., i., pl. cci., fig. 4, and ii., pl. cvii., figs. 7, 8.

Wilkes—loc. cit., v., pp. 6 and 36.

¶ Edge-Partington—loc. cit., i., pl. xxxi. and pl. xxxiii., fig. 5.

** Ellis—loc cit., ii., p. 399.