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Niuē-fekai (or Savage) Island and its People

Clothing and Ornaments

Clothing and Ornaments

The climate does not necessitate much clothing, though at the present day, to judge by the costumes of the people, the temperature would appear cold. To see some of the old Patus dressed up in the discarded coats, made of the thickest cloth, formerly belonging to the page break page 63 guards of the London & Brighton Railway, is somewhat amusing on a sweltering day. But then these coats have much brass button and red letters on them. This is the thing that “fetches” the Niuē swell, for they are very fond of outward show—anything in the way of uniform seems to appeal to them very much. Everyone dresses in European clothing now-a-days, in which the people do not look comfortable. An exception, however, must be made in favour of the women, who all wear the cool “round-about,” generally of white, pink, or dark blue, and, it must be added, they look very well in such a costume. Hats (potiki) of their own manufacture are worn by everyone; they are made of Pandanus leaf (lau-fa) and are very good A considerable number is exported every year to New Zealand and Australia; indeed, I was told, as many as 30,000 were sent away one year; but the average is between 2,000 and 3,000.



Top row: On the left, a toki-gēegēe, or shell adze; a fuifui, or fly flap, made of braided sinnet.

Second row: 1, Palahega, or plume; 2, Toki-uli, or aze of volcanic stone; 3, 4, 5, Combs (hetu. P. 67, No. 1); 6, Maka-pou-ana, throwing stone of Stalactite, polished; 7, Palahega, or plume; 8, a broom; 9, short club made of ebony.

Third row: Three fans (fuifui, P. 67, No. 2); the centre one is a copy from the Samoan fans.

Lower row: A girdle (kafa, P. 67, No. 9) of human hair braided.

The Scale is shown in inches.

The figures in brackets refer to J. Edge Partington's “Album.”

But none of these things are ha mena tuai–things of old, but are modern, since the introduction of Christianity. In old times the malo, or waist-cloth, was the principal garment of the men, occasionally varied by a garment of hiapo or cloth made of hibiscus bark, called a felevehi, which (I think) was worn by both men and women. It was something like the kilt, or titi, of other branches of the race. Their girdles, called kafa, were made of a large number of strands of human hair beautifully braided (tili) and gathered together at the ends in loops, which served to fasten them round the waist. These are exactly like the belts of the Ure-wera Maoris, except that the latter are made of dyed flax. On Plate 7 one of these kafa is shown, it has 173 braided strands of hair in it, and as the belt is 33 inches long, there is a total length of braid of 475 feet 9 inches, an astonishing witness to the industry of the woman who made it. No wonder these kafa-lauula are much valued. These hair belts are, however, not peculiar to Niuē; I have one from Tahiti somewhat longer, but with not nearly so many strands in it.

Another article of wear was the kafa-hega, or girdle, made of feathers woven or bound on to a fabric. These must have been very handsome, judging from the pala-hega, parts of which are made in the same manner. There were three kinds of feather girdles: the kafa-hega, made of the green parroquet feathers; the kafa-hega-tea, made of white parroquet feathers, which are found under the beak; and the kafa-palua, which is said to be the handsomest and most valued of all. The feathers were plaited into fine twine, then twisted into cords the size of a pencil, and fastened together. The women would work at one of these for years.

These girdles were only worn by the chiefs and warriors, and were very highly valued. I have the record of four of these girdles which were in use about 1850 by some of the chiefs, and three of them were 20 fathoms long, the other 18½ fathoms. They were wound round the body.

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All this kind of work was done by the women, and it was under the patronage of certain goddesses, ten of whom are mentioned in par. 42 (Part IV.), but most of whom were named Hina, with some qualifying word. To these goddesses prayers (liogi) were made by the women when engaged in the work. The labour connected with them must have been enormous. They represent for Niuē, the magnificent ‘ahu-'ula (Maori, kahu-kura) of the Hawaiian Islands—cloaks of resplendent golden and scarlet feathers, of which many may be seen in the Pauahi-Bishop Museum at Honolulu—and also the handsome kahu-kiwi, kahu-kura, and other cloaks of the Maori, made of Kiwi, Parrot, Pigeon, Tui, and other feathers.

The bark-cloth, made from the Morinda citrifolia, or hiapo, is fine of its kind. The ground work is white, and the pattern stamped on it by the women is made from the root of the tuitui, or candle-nut tree. Plate 8 shows a fair specimen of a kafu, or covering made of hiapo, a name which applies both to the tree and the cloth, ordinarily called tapa in most islands. In design and colour, however, Niuē hiapo cannot compare to the beautiful tapa to be seen in the Pauahi-Bishop Museum at Honolulu, the manufacture of the Hawaiians, who call it kapa. The hiapo tree or shrub grows in long slender rods some ten feet high, and it is from the back of this the cloth is made, by the same process that prevails elsewhere amongst the Polynesians. The tree is said to be disappearing in Niuē, as it is a cultivated plant, and the demand for hiapo has well-nigh ceased since the introduction of European fabrics. The Niuē term for beating the bark is tutū, impressing the pattern is helehele, or fakakupukupu, whilst tapulu is the general name for clothing of any kind. The bark of the Ocara, or Banyan, was also made into cloth.

Of the ornaments worn, there are several. A girdle of white cowrie shells (pule-tea) was worn below the kafa-lanula, or hair-girdle, it was about six to eight inches deep, and rattled as the wearer moved. These shells were also worn on the upper arm, three or four in a row. This is a Melanesian rather than a Polynesian custom. The large katoua, or clubs, were also ornamented with the white cowrie, as were the canoes, and in modern times, they are to be seen in the churches combined with coloured sinnet work arranged in ornamental patterns. Monomono was a shell ornament worn round the neck, made of a spiral shell cut, the head part used like a brooch, the pointed part cut flat. It rattled in the dance. The palā-hega was a sort of plume worn at the back of the head, and kept in position by a band of hiapo round the head. Two of these are shown in Plate 7. They are made with a core of dried banana bark, round which is wound strips of hiapo having scarlet feathers of the Hega parroquet fastened on to them, and at top and bottom the yellow feathers of the Kulukulu dove are lashed on with hair braid. From the top springs a plume of red and page break page break page 65 white Tuaki and Tuaki-kula feathers, making altogether rather a handsome ornament. Dressed up in his full equipment of ornaments, a man was said to be fakatufele. Plate No. 9 shows the late King Fata-a-iki in full dress of ancient times.

No. 8.—Niue. Hiapo, or bark-cloth covering

No. 8.—Niue. Hiapo, or bark-cloth covering

No. 9.—Niue. The late King Fata-a-iki in full costume, with a katoua in his hand

No. 9.—Niue. The late King Fata-a-iki in full costume, with a katoua in his hand

I have already mentioned that the Niuē people did not add tattooing to their adornments, in which they resemble the Morioris.