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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands

Cooking Utensils

Cooking Utensils

A fire plough is always kept in the kitchen house but is never used when a brand can be borrowed from another fire. I saw two boys make a fire by the plough method one morning to light their cigarettes. One boy held the hearth, a broad stick of dry soft wood, on the ground in front of him by placing one foot against it. The second boy sat opposite and ran the plow back and forth rapidly, pressing down strongly with both hands folded over the end. It was page 146 only a matter of two or three minutes before he had worn a groove in the hearth, accumulated a little pile of dust at the far end, and by the friction of his increasingly rapid movements had ignited it. Dry coconut husk fiber was immediately laid over the smouldering particles which were gently blown into a flame.

A stake for husking coconuts is implanted in the ground outside the cook house. With it is a food grater (kaukasalo), a four-legged stool with an arm tilted upward at an angle from one end. A white, fan-shaped shell (sisi) is lashed with sennit to the tip of the arm. The lip of the shell has a fine serration over which coconut meat or segments of fala can be grated. The nut is cupped over the shell and scraped downward with short, rapid movements. The hands are placed one over the other on the upturned nut.

The kitchen is furnished with a set of bowls and two or three baskets for storing or carrying food. Fresh leaves are gathered whenever they are to be used for wrapping food or making serving dishes. Only one type of serving platter made of coconut leaf is considered to be originally of Tokelau. Several other types have been introduced by the Samoan families of the village pastors.

The lower pointed half of the coconut shell (muli) makes a drinking cup (ipu) and container for baking fluids. It is also used as a ladle (ipu hele) and as a cover (ipu faka tau) to put over surplus cooked food. Coconut shells are plentiful, and the cups and covers are discarded after use. The polished cups kept in the households of Samoa and Tonga primarily as part of the kava drinking equipment are not made in the Tokelau Islands. All water is drunk from a coconut bottle.

Formerly a cup of coconut oil was kept suspended from a crossbeam in every house. These cups were made of three quarters or more of the shell with only the top removed. Two or four holes were perforated blow the rim, and a suspensory cord of fine twisted sennit was tied to them.

The coconut shell supplies a natural bottle (fangu vai) which has been utilized wherever coconut trees grow in Polynesia. The largest eye (mata) of a large nut is pierced, the juice drained out, and the nut refilled with salt water which is allowed to remain for a week or more to rot the meat. This is then poured out, and the shell rinsed with fresh water, which leaves it clean and ready for use. These coconut-shell bottles are usually hung in sets of three from the two ends of a heavy sennit braid, by which they are carried over the shoulders. The rope is made of several strands of sennit which are divided at the ends to join the sennit carrying net around each bottle. A carrying rope also serves to lower the bottles into the well for drawing water and to suspend the bottles from house posts or coconut trees. It is customary to keep the water bottles on a coconut tree near the house by wrapping the carrying rope around the trunk so that both sets of bottles hang close to the under side of the tree.

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A replica of the water containers (pl. 8, A), formerly kept in the houses, is encased in a closely woven netting with a cord handle by which it was suspended from the beams of the house. The netting is made with twisted cord of coconut fiber in a 5-millimeter mesh. The technique of netting consists of drawing the cord through the adjoining mesh, pulling it taut, twisting it over on itself, and carrying it to the next mesh. The commencement is made upon a double strand of cord wound around the bottle just below the middle of the shell. The netting is worked around the shell to the bottom of the bottle and picked up again from the commencement cord around the middle and carried to the mouth. An inch from the mouth of the bottle the cord is carried through each mesh of the last row and drawn tight to form the finishing edge.

The handle is made of a loop of cord carried under the finishing edge at two opposing points. The cord is doubled back twice to make four strands which are firmly seized. One end of the cord projects through the seizing 6 or 7 centimeters above the attachment, and a perforated stopper of puapua wood is attached to the end.

A complete kitchen is equipped with four types of wooden bowls of various sizes and shapes (pl. 9, A), which are used for mixing the several dishes cooked with fish or pandanus and coconut cream. The largest wooden bowl is the kumete tula, in which a pudding of pandanus fruit and grated coconut (vaisu) is mixed. A slightly smaller bowl (kumete tau lolo) is used with the coconut grater to catch the particles of coconut meat. A third bowl (kumete pale ika) usually has a flat bottom and is used to hold fish before they are put into the fire or mixed with a sauce. The fourth type is the small bowl (lau kumete) commonly used for holding water and for preparing or mixing small quantities of food.

These wooden bowls are hewn from single blocks of wood. The larger bowls are made of kanava, and the smaller food dishes are made of puapua. The general shape is elliptical with handles projecting at either end flush with the rim of the bowl (pl. 9, A). The common type of handle is undercut to fit the hand, having knobbed ends which set at an angle from the longitudinal axis. A hole is bored in one handle, and a loop of seized sennit is drawn through for hanging the bowl. The bottoms are sometimes flat but are usually rounded. No bowls with legs were seen in the islands.