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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.

Fire Sticks

page 301

Fire Sticks.

Almost without exception fire has been obtained by all primitive people by the rubbing together of pieces of wood. In detail, however, the process differs greatly among different races.

Among Australian Aborigines the usual method was to press and twirl between the palms a perpendicular rod in a hole in a fixed horizontal stick.* The ancient Egyptians, likewise, rotated a perpendicular upon a horizontal stick, but employed a bow to revolve the upright.

Another method, approaching more closely to the form we are about to consider, is the fire-saw used in Borneo and Australia under several forms, the general principle of which consists of sawing an edged rod in a notched one.

Throughout the Pacific Islands one method, and, as far as I am aware, only one is employed, that of ploughing a wooden blade in a groove. It is thus described by Woodford in the Solomons:—"A stake of dry, soft wood is selected, a convenient size being about as thick as the wrist. For convenience a few chips are sliced off in one place to make a flat surface to rub upon. The stake is then placed upon the ground in front of the operator, who sits on one end of it and holds it steady between his toes, then with a pencil-shaped piece of harder wood, held firmly in both hands, he begins rubbing up and down upon the flat surface. A groove is formed and a dark coloured dust soon produced, which is pushed to the farther end of the groove. The dust before long begins to smoke. The pace is increased, and it begins to smoulder. A piece of dry touchwood is then applied to it and quickly blown into a glow. With perfectly dry wood a native will almost certainly produce fire in less than a minute. "**

Though the general process has been repeatedly described, the exact method of gripping the stick with the hands has not, I believe, been explained.§ The crossed thumbs are placed beneath the stick, the flexed fingers of one half-opened hand are placed above it, and upon them are laid the fingers of the other hand, this posture (fig. 75) allowing the operator to lean the whole weight of his body on the stick, while rapidly moving it to and fro, at about half a right angle to the grooved stick. In an example from Funafuti before me, the blackened groove is three and a half inches

* For details and figures see Brough Smyth—Aborigines of Victoria, i., 1876, p. 392, figs. 231, 232.

Roth—The Natives of Sarawak and "British North Borneo, i., 1896, p. 377, fig.; and Brough Smyth—loc. cit., p. 395, figs. 223, 224.

** ‡Woodford—A Naturalist among the Head-hunters, 1890, p. 161. See also Lamont—op. cit., p, 156.

§ Since writing this, an excellent figure and description of the process by Lieut. B. T. Somerville, R.N., (Journ. Anthrop. Inst., xxvi., 1897, p. 376, pi. xxxv.), has reached me.

page 302long, a third of an inch wide, and an eighth of an inch deep. The flattened surface cut for its reception is five inches long and one-half inch broad. The stake, "kousikanga," of dry Premna taitensis chosen, was origin ally about six feet long and an inch and a half in diameter. The wooden knife" koufataronga " used on it is of another timber, nine inches long, one wide, and half an inch thick, obliquely truncated at the worn end.
Fig. 75

Fig. 75

In Hawaii, "a smaller stick, the 'aulima, is held in the hand and rubbed in a groove in a larger stick, the aunaki."*

The reverence, amounting almost to fire-worship, paid to fire by different settlements of the Tokelau people, is related ante p. 55.

* Brigham—loc. cit., pt. ii., p. 31.