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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.



The old-fashioned kilt dress of Polynesia is still made and used on Funafuti. It is, however, like most native articles, in process of decadence, being only worn by the poorer people or by those page 240engaged in rough work meaning to save more valued clothes. The Tahitian " tiputa" has been imposed by the mission upon the women; both sexes wear the Fijian "lava lava" of European calico, another modern innovation. For state occasions the men wear shirt and trousers, and the women loose gowns in which they each appear awkward and uneasy. I did not learn that tappa cloth was made on the atoll.

The Tukai.

The ancient masculine costume, the "tukai," is well shown by the figure given by Wilkes* of the Funafuti native wearing one, which is described as "a strip of fine matting made of the pandanus leaf, about eight inches wide and ten feet long, and fringed on each side." On Nukufetan the same Expedition saw pandanus mats" worn as a girdle of thick fringe, from eight inches to a foot broad, tied about the loins so as to cover in part the maro: to this they gave the name of 'takai'; the last was used as a wrapper about the body and legs."

Edge-Partington figures this garment as from Rotumah, describing it as now obselete.

Whereas the "titi" was simply tied round the waist, the tukai was first passed between the limbs and then around the body. From the accompanying sketch (Plate xiii.) of a man putting on his tukai it will be obvious that although this dress has acquired a secondary resemblance to the titi, it is really homologous with the T bandage formerly worn by the inhabitants of the neighbouring atolls of Atafu and Fakaafu.

The tukai primarily consists of a long narrow mat with a fringe of unwoven strands. Comparing the dress as it appeared to me on Funafuti with the drawings of Wilkes and Edge-Partington, it will be noticed that the fringe in the modern specimens I procured, has greatly broadened, while the total length of the dress has decreased to nearly half. I am unable from the specimens and illustrations at my disposal to trace all the graduations between the ordinary form of the T bandage and the tukai, but I feel convinced of their existence.

A specimen (fig. 4) of a highly ornate dance tukai, made for me on Funafuti, weighs two pounds four ounces, is six feet six

* Wilkes—op. cit., v., p. 4l.

Edge-Partington—loc. cit., ii., pl. li., fig. 4.

Wilkes—loc. cit., v., plate facing p. 3 and p. 36; this loin cloth is also the ordinary masculine dress in the Solomons, as shown in Guppy's Solomon Islands, plate facing p. 102; and in Eastern British New Guinea, for example, Finsch—Ethnological Atlas, pi. xvi., and Lindt—Picturesque New Guinea, pl. xli.; the most reduced form of which known to me is the string "sihi" of the Motu, exemplified by Lindt, op. cit., pl. xxxiv., the man on the left.

page 241inches in total length, and when folded for use is eighteen inches in depth, it is made of the inner bark of the fau (Hibiscus tiliaceus)
Fig. 4.

Fig. 4.

stained red with nonou (Morinda citrifolia). When unfolded, the centre band (fig. 5) is four and a half inches wide, woven closely of narrow strands; along the outside edge of the matting is a seam where additional fibres have been introduced to lengthen and thicken the dress: this latter feature is absent from an old, worn and unornamented tukai in the collection. At the inner corners the matting is produced into plaited strings for
Fig. 5.

Fig. 5.

tying on the dress. The outer part of the fringe, that which is exposed when worn, is elaborately decorated with pandanus leaf ribbons arranged in four series of four, whose symmetry is only broken by the substitution of red for yellow in the penultimate one. Each ribbon is attached to the lower edge of the matting, is two feet long, two to two and a half inches wide, and forked at the tip. The right-hand streamer is for half its length decorated with three series of successive breadths of yellow, red, and black leaf, sewn on with European cotton. A row of five or six white tests of a Foraminifer (Orbitolites complanata, var. laciniata), is sewn on each black band. The second ribbon is yellow, with one red band atop; the third is black with a black and a red fold above, thence a series of confluent yellow diamonds extends to the edge of the fringe; the fourth is wholly red; the fifth repeats the first, and so on. This style of ornament recalls that of a Banks Island robe, figured by Edge-Partington.* When the dress is put away these ribbons are carefully doubled up and tied to be out of harm's way. The native Wilkes figured was similarly decorated with pandanus ribbons, but as far as I can understand his description they were attached not to the tukai but to a separate belt. From Tahiti, Edge-Partington figures a like girdle with pendant tassels, and in the New Hebrides there exists a similar overall dress with streamers five or six feet long.

* Edge-Partington—loc. cit., ii., pl. lxxxv., fig. 8.

Edge-Partington—loc. cit., i., pl. xxxv.

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Another ornate tukai was decorated with less elaboration than the one described. In place of the discs of Foraminifera, white feathers were used.

A third tukai, intended perhaps for every-day wear, was of the same dimensions but quite plain.

The Titi.

The "titi" or woman's dress appears in Funafuti in a form common alike to Melanesians and Polynesians, and extending over a wide area of the South Pacific. The name of it suggests a derivation from the Ti tree (Cordyline) whose handsome, elliptical leaves tied by their stalks in a belt are in some islands still used as a temporary or hastily made dress, and which may have been the earliest form of the garment.*

In making the titi, a woman arranges her material, usually dressed leaves of pandanus or coconut palm, in convenient heaps. For the waist-band is selected a double cord of two or three ply coconut fibre, one end of which is made fast to a post of the hut the other being attached to the operator's waist. Sitting on the floor, the workwoman draws from the heap two handfuls of fibre, one she doubles over the cords, the other she knots across and between them, as shown diagrammatically by fig. 6. A continuation of this process (fig. 7) completes the dress, Elsewhere in the Pacific other modes of knotting the fibres to the belt exist. That none of these have been described is a surprising instance of the superficialness of our knowledge of Polynesian Ethnology. Here lies a field for cultivation at once easy and prolific. A Papuan pattern, very distinct from that described in the text, will shortly be described in the Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S. Wales for 1897. The leaves may afterwards be combed into finer strands by the "tosi." At one end the waist-band terminates in a loop, at the other in two strings with which it is tied at the side of the wearer.

Fig. 6.

Fig. 6.

Fig. 7.

Fig. 7.

Fig. 8.

Fig. 8.

Ornamental dance dresses differ from ordinary ones by the addition of extra flounces, etc. A specimen of the former now before me (fig. 8) weighs four pounds six ounces and measures three feet in length and twenty-one inches in depth.

page 243

It is variegated by the intercalation of a brown coconut leaf flounce between two of white pandanus leaf, and is also adorned by four series of three coloured pandanus ribbons and decorated by the black feathers of the Frigate bird.

Plain dresses from the coconut leaf and from pandanus are also represented in the collection.

The only Ellice female seen by the American Exploring Expedition was a Nukufetau woman, who "wore a cincture around her waist, and a mat over her bosom. The cincture was made of pandanus leaves; this was fastened to a cord as a thick fringe, two feet in length, and extended to her knees."

When a dress has been laid aside for a while it is fumigated as described (ante p. 102) to rid it of noxious insects.

The grass rain-cloak of Japan has a general resemblance to the Polynesian titi. The Micronesian loom appeared unknown on Funafuti.

* Guppy—loc. cit., p. 130; and Turner—loc. cit., p. 118.

Edge-Partington—loc. cit., i., pl. xxxv.


A common article of apparel, widespread through the Pacific and still in daily use, is the sandal, on which scanty attention has been bestowed by Ethnologists.

Under the title of "Sandal used when fishing on a reef," Edge-Partington illustrates a type slightly differing from that we are approaching.* His statement is confirmed by a veteran missionary, my friend the Rev. George Brown, ll.d., who tells me that the sandal is thus worn in Samoa.

The Rev. W. W. Gill writes of Mangaiia:—" At the top, the 'ungakoa,' is protected against attack by a dense shield, whilst the circular edge of the cavity is as keen as the edge of a razor. This animal grows with the bed of coral, the long cavity becoming increasingly large. Young 'ungakoa,' like young oysters, are easily detached from the coral by means of a hammer. Children eat them raw, not forgetting a supply of cooked taro out of their tiny baskets. Hence the necessity of using sandals for the protection of the feet; woe betides the luckless wight who should tread with his entire weight upon one of these 'cobbler's awls.' Round pieces of flesh are in this way scooped out of the foot."

Another reference to this article occurs in a native address given by Gill:—"I now carefully turn my sandals, so that both sides may be equally worn, pick up my basket and fishing tackle, and go to the outer edge of the reef to angle."§ From Tahiti, the sandal is described by Ellis.

* Loc. cit., i., pl. Ixxvii., fig. 7, from Samoa; and pl. clxxvii., fig. 5, from Mortlock.

Probably Vermetus maximus, Sowerby.

Gill—Savage Life in Polynesia, 1880, p. 114.

§ Gill—Life in the Southern Isles, 1876, p. 145.

Ellis—Polynesian Researches, i., 1832, p. 143.

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In the Museum at Honolulu there are deposited, "Sandals for walking on coral reefs," from Santa Cruz. The sandals of the ancient Hawaiian could hardly be called a regular part of the national costume, as they were only worn to protect the feet in journeys over the rough lava beds. The sandals, "malina," were simply braided cushions attached by cords, often of the same material, over the toes and around the ankle. Another allusion to these sandals terms them "kama waoke." *

Webster, ascending Mauna Loa in 1851 observed that his native guide Sam, "always careful of number one, had provided himself with sandals made from the fibre of coconut husk" to save his feet from the sharp lava.

The sandal "tukka" is still employed at Funafuti, whose fishermen are thus shod when wading on the reefs. A pair before me, of which one is represented by fig. 9, weighs five ounces. Each is eight inches long, four wide, and nearly one thick. Upon an oval, rope foundation, flat sinnet is woven under and over; at the toe end there is a long loop, at each side two short ones, and, at one corner of the heel end, a fourth loop. From the opposite corner of the heel end arises a flat cord thirty-nine inches long which is rove through each of the loops. The sandal is put on (fig. 10), by thrusting the second and third toes through the largest loop, applying the pad to the sole of the foot, drawing the cord tight and fastening it round the ankle. When fitted, both heel and toe overlap the pad. The construction of the Samoan sandal suggests that it is worn in a slightly different manner.

The Japanese have a sandal closely resembling this, but the "kuditcha" shoes. of Australia are too distant in use and construction to require comparison.

Fig. 9.

Fig. 9.

Fig. 10.

Fig. 10.

* Brigham—loc.cit., pt. ii., p, 87; pt. iii., pp. 21 and 61.

Webster—Last Cruise of the Wanderer, n.d., p. 18.

R. Etheridge, Junr.—Proc. Linn. Soc. N.S.W. (2) ix., 1895, p. 544; Favenc—The Moccasins of Silence, n.d., frontispiece; Edge-Partington—loc. cit., ii., pl. ccviii., figs. 7, 8.

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.


Trinkets for personal adornment, except those of European pattern, are now, through missionary influence, disused on Funafuti. A band of small and polished Nautilus shells, somewhat like that Edge-Partington figures from Samoa,* was purchased by a member of the Expedition. As the Pearly Nautilus does not occur alive on the atoll, and rarely if ever drifts there, I am not satisfied of the local origin of that ornament.

On Nukulailai I found shell necklaces in fashion. One I purchased called "pouli," weighs an ounce and a half and measures sixteen inches in length, and was composed of a hundred and seven bleached and yellow shells of Melampus luteus, each pierced near its anterior extremity, and strung either backwards

* Edge-Partington—loc. cit., pl. lxxxvi., fig. 2.

page 247or forwards, alternately left and right, on a cord plaited of four strands (fig. 12). In estimating the beauty of such a necklace, it should be remembered that it is designed not to contrast with a white skin, where its effect would be displeasing, but against a brown one, where it is in chromatic harmony.
Fig. 12.

Fig. 12.

Models were made for me on Funafuti of a pair of dance ornaments, "lilima,"(fig. 13)such as were worn in "the old days." Each
Fig. 13.

Fig. 13.

armlet is composed of three pandanus leaf ribbons, two feet long, super-imposed one upon another, except above, where the lower projects beyond the upper. The uppermost is reddened with nonou, the second blackened with tar, and the third retains its natural yellow. The red leaf is crinkled* with transverse creases an inch and a half apart. Near the upper end the leaves are gathered with a bow of ornamental cord, on which is strung a button of white shell, Natica mamilla; the ribbons are further surmounted by a tuft of palm pinnules upon which is arranged a fold of the bow of the cord. The cord is segmented black and yellow, consisting of a strand of human hair laid up with a strand of bark thread, The whole has a tasteful effect. It was worn, said the maker, by tying the strings round the biceps of the arm.

Head-dresses were formerly made of the Frigate bird plumes, but of these I failed to procure either specimens or models. A pandanus leaf head-dress is figured by Wilkes, the Funafuti native wearing it also sports an ankle-ring. §

On Nukufetau the American Exploring Expedition observed a coconut leaflet tied round the necks of some men (ante p. 27). On Fotuna this was a mark of rank. An illustration of a king of Fakaafu shows him thus adorned.

* On Ponape, the dress of chiefs is pandanus leaves crimped. Brigham—loc. cit., iii., p. 49.

This kind of cord is used in some of the New Ireland dance masks in the Australian Museum.

Gill—Jottings from the Pacific, 1885, p. 17.

§ Wilkes—loc. cit., p. 41.

Journ. Polyn. Soc, i., pp. 41, 42.

Journ. Anthrop. Inst., xxi., 1892, p. iii., fig. 1.