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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



Formerly the men wore breechcloths (malo) plaited of strips of kanava or leaves of kie pandanus. Apparently the Tokelau men never wore the kilt titi which was worn in Samoa and the Ellice Islands. To prepare kanava bark for making malo, branches from several kanava trees were soaked in the salt water of the lagoon for about a month. This soaking softened the outer bark which separated from the branch, leaving the soft inner bark adhering to the wood. The inner bark was peeled off and dried in the sun, after which strips were easily split with a fishbone point into even widths for plaiting. This bark provided a very soft, pliable material suitable for clothing and made a good substitute for tapa.

The malo was plaited in a strip ranging from a few feet to several yards long and about 6 or 10 inches wide. The working malo was put on by holding one end over the lower abdomen while the band was carried between the legs and brought up to the back and around the right side. It was passed over the free commencement end and around the waist to the middle line, where it was knotted. The more elaborate malo was long enough to pass several times around the waist and to have the commencement end, often fringed, hang at some length over the girdle in front.