Arts and Crafts of the Cook Islands
The manufacture of bark cloth from paper mulberry bast was widespread throughout the volcanic islands and even reached New Zealand. The technique introduced from the Society Islands consisted of retting the bark in water and afterwards felting it into cloth with wooden beaters on a wooden anvil. The other method of scraping the bast dry, beating it into strips that separated, and pasting sheets together to the required thickness was evidently a later process that was used in western Polynesia. The finished cloth was white. Various methods of decorating with colored dyes were evidently old, but variations in the technique of application and in the motifs used in the designs were developed in the second period.
The Cook Islands bark cloth beaters (pl. 6, A) with four surfaces of equal width throughout the length of the blade and with incised parallel grooves, form the type in use in central, eastern, and northern Polynesia—namely the Cook, Society, Austral, Marquesas, and Hawaiian islands. All have rounded grips except the form used for the finishing process in Mangaia (fig. 265, b). All have the proximal end of the handle flared except those in Hawaii, where the handle ends in a blunt point (fig. 265, h, i). Bark cloth beaters in these areas have grooves and ridges parallel to each other. In Hawaii, however, a number of beaters depart from the common parallel line technique, having crossed or zigzag grooves (fig. 265, i) which result in a variety of geometrical watermarks that may be observed by holding the cloth up to the light. The only other islands known to have the crossed lozenge pattern are Tubuai (1, pl. 7, B) in the Austral Islands and Rapa (fig. 265, g). Bishop Museum has specimens of these rare beaters. The Tubuai beaters (fig. 265, f) are distinguished from the Hawaiian beaters by their flared proximal ends, but the Rapa beater is not flared or pointed at the proximal end. Mangarevan beaters (fig. 265, j) were made from pandanus wood and depart from the eastern type in having two wide plain surfaces, two narrow grooved surfaces, and a narrow flange terminating the proximal end of the handle. A beater from Easter Island (fig. 265, k), in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin, follows the Mangarevan page 430type in that the blade is rectangular instead of square, but the proximal end of the handle runs out evenly without being flared or pointed. The four surfaces are smooth but Thomson (78, p 467) states that the beaters had some surfaces smooth and some grooved. There is thus affinity between Easter Island and Mangareva.
Figure 265.—Polynesian cloth beaters (ike, i'e): a, Atiu, Cook Islands; b, Mangaia, Cook Islands, finishing beater; c, Tahiti; d, Marquesas; e, Austral Islands, general form; f, Tubuai, Austral Islands, crossed pattern; g, Rapa, crossed pattern; h, Hawaii, general form; i, Hawaii, zigzag pattern; j, Mangareva, showing wide smooth surface (1) and narrow grooved surface (2); k, Easter Island; l, New Zealand; m, Tonga.
The type of beater used in western Polynesia differs from those described above in being shorter and more massive. The distal end surfaces are three inches wide, gradually diminishing to 2.5 inches at the handle shoulder. The grooves which are widely spaced follow the side edges and consequently are not parallel. There is no close grooving and some of the surfaces are plain (fig. 265, m). The beating process was commenced with the coarsely grooved surfaces and finished off with the smooth plain surfaces, hence western tapa shows no watermark. This type is used in Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Uvea, and Fiji.
As atoll groups such as the Tuamotus could not grow the paper mulberry, bark cloth was not made. In New Zealand, where the paper mulberry was introduced by early Maori settlers, bark cloth was abandoned as clothing in favor of woven garments made from the native flax (Phormium tenax). However, a small supply of bark cloth was made in the warmer areas for such articles as kites and ear ornaments. Two beaters in the Auckland Museum (69, pl. 1) that were dredged from under seven feet of gravel in Whangarei Harbor, have close parallel lines and conform to the central Polynesian type (fig. 265, l).
The man's lorn cloth (maro) and the woman's kilt or skirt (pareu) made from bark cloth belong to this early period. The kilt of braided ti leaves, from its simplicity of technique and wide distribution, must also be regarded as belonging to the first period. And the use of the single-pair twine in kilts of hibiscus bast is probably old in central Polynesia.
It is to be expected that colored designs on bark cloth should undergo a varied development in different islands even within the same group. In the Cook Islands, dyeing by immersion, freehand painting, and stamping with a frame (Aitutaki) were the technique used. Rubbing over a tablet (upeti) was used in western Polynesia. This was possible with successive thin sheets in which each layer in turn was pressed down firmly on the raised pattern of the tablet, hence rubbing as a technique was associated with the western method of making the cloth. Freehand painting was also used in the west, but rubbing was not used in the rest of Polynesia. The difference between the two techniques is readily observed. In rubbed cloth, the tablet pattern is repeated over the whole surface of the cloth and the pattern also shows on the underside. In painted cloth, the pattern is not geometrically accurate and does not show on the underside except in blotches where the dye has soaked through. Attention to these differences is mentioned because inaccurate identifications have been accepted through ignorance of technique. Brigham (12, pis. 24, 25) reproduced a piece of cloth, which is in the British Museum (no. 6301), which he attrib-page 432uted to Aitutaki. The colored design was produced by the Samoan and Tongan technique of rubbing on a tablet which precludes its being from Aitutaki. In the; same work (12, pi. 26), he figured a piece of cloth in Bishop Museum (no. 8270) as Rarotongan. He states, "Two sheets were brought in by our collector, evidently stamped with the same upete.…" Though collected in Rarotonga, the cloth was made in Samoa or Tonga where the upete [upeti] tablet was used. Brigham recognized from the design that a dye tablet had been used, but, in accepting the cloth as Rarotongan because it was collected there, he made a wrong identification and conveyed an additional error, by assuming that rubbing on an upeti dye tablet was used in Rarotonga.
The female garment known as a Mother Hubbard was introduced by the early missionaries to conceal the upper part of the body that Polynesian women had allowed to remain bare. At first sight, the poncho may seem to have been inspired by pastors in a period when loom textiles were not plentiful enough to supply the demand for Mother Hubbards. However, the poncho was seen in the Cook Islands on first contact with European voyagers. It was also seen elsewhere in 1769 by Cook's first expedition, for Banks mentioned it as present in Tahiti (2, p. 131) and in Rurutu (2, p. 125). It was not recorded in Hawaii, the Marquesas, Mangareva, Easter Island, and western Polynesia by visitors who made first contact with the native inhabitants.
Figure 266.—Types of poncho (tiputa). a, Tahiti: slit neck, plain sides and lower borders; yellow cloth with red fern leaves. b, Mangaia: slit neck, plain sides and lower borders; painted design. c, Atiu: circular serrated neck; plain sides and lower borders, breadfruit bast without design. d, Mangaia: circular serrated neck; serrated sides and lower borders; perforated triangular and lozenge motifs. e, Mangaia: circular serrated neck; serrated sides and fringed lower border; perforated motifs. f, Mangaia: circular serrated neck; fringed sides and lower borders; perforated motifs. g, Tahiti: circular plain neck; fringed sides and finely serrated lower borders; painted motifs. h, Niue: circular plain neck, fringed sides and coarsely serrated lower borders; painted motifs.
The ponchos preserved in collections show that there were two forms of the neck opening; the vertical slit and the circular. The side edges were straight or fringed. Garments collected at an early period indicate the original form. A Tahitian poncho (fig. 266, a ) in the Royal Swedish Museum, Stockholm (222), bought in 1839 from a collection then in Europe, has a slit neck and unfringed sides. Its age is certain and the locality is proved by the yellow cloth with red ferns stamped upon it, a technique peculiar to Tahiti. Another old Tahitian poncho of yellow cloth in the British Museum has a slit neck and unfringed edges. Because of the age and simplicity of technique of these two garments, it may be assumed that the slit neck and, unfringed sides was the form used in Tahiti in the second period. The old Mangaian poncho (fig. 266 , b) in the British Museum, also has a slit neck and unfringed sides, and it may be assumed that this was the early type that diffused to the Cook Islands. Variation from the early form and its further distribution are described in the third period to which they evidently belong.
The later ponchos have circular necks which may be serrated and fringed sides, some with the edges of the fringes serrated. In some ponchos, the lower edge is serrated or fringed. One from Atiu has unfringed sides; but, as it was recently made, the lack of extra width to form side fringes may have been due to lack of experience. Three Mangaian ponchos shown in figure 266, d, e, f, have circular serrated necks and fringed lower borders; two have fringed sides; and one has serrated sides. A specimen from Tahiti (fig. 266, g) follows the more recent form.
Ponchos have been described from Niue, Tonga, and Samoa in the west. A Niue poncho in Bishop Museum (C8236), collected by me on that island in 1912, is made of thick white tapa with a Niue pattern painted in black. The neck opening is circular with the edge reinforced with a serrated strip of tapa doubled over the edge and sewn to it. The sides have serrated fringes (fig. 266, h). Niue and the Cook Islands have been under New Zealand administration for many years, and a colony of Niue people lived in Rarotonga where they took part in dances and festivals. Thus, ample opportunity for diffusion from Rarotonga to Niue has been provided. However, a poncho in the Peabody Museum, Cambridge (no. 1492), attributed to Niue, was obtained from the Boston Society of Natural History in 1869; and, if the locality is correct, it may have been spread by early missionary visits.
Information regarding the occurrence of the poncho in Tonga was obtained by W. C. McKern (Bishop Museum ms.), who states that the leuleu or penu was a small tapa garment worn principally by elderly women but that its exact page 434nature was doubtful. Several informants held that it was a short fakapenu garment falling only to the hips and others described it as a rectangular strip from two to three feet wide and about six feet long, with a round hole in the middle for the head to pass through. It was worn like a poncho, hanging from the shoulders to the hips in front and back. However, Cook, who visited Tonga on his second and third voyages, makes no mention of the poncho. This omission by such a careful observer as Cook is evidence that the occurrence of the poncho in Tonga is not old and that it may have occurred after missionary contact.
The poncho was seen by Erskine (26a, p. 36) on the island of Tau in the Manua Archipelago of eastern Samoa, and in Tutuila (26a, p. 50). This, however, z was as late as 1849 when practically all Samoa had been converted to Christianity. Erskine remarked that the first missionaries to Tau were natives who had come from Rarotonga two years previous to his own visit, and it is significant that he refers to the garment by its Cook Islands and Tahitian name of tiputa. It is mentioned even earlier by Wilkes (80, vol. 2, p. 141) who, in speaking of the clothing of the Samoans, states:
"… they also wear wrappers of the siapo form, and the tiputa, a kind of poncho, of the same material, after the fashion of the Tahitians …" At the time of Wilkes' visit to Samoa in 1839, members of the London Missionary Society had established stations in Samoa and the Samoans had become converts to Christianity.
On the evidence, I believe that the tiputa which originated in central Polynesia before European contact, was carried to Samoa and Tonga in early post-missionary times by members of the London Missionary Society who were acquainted with its use in Tahiti and the Cook Islands. They introduced it in the west to lessen exposure of the human form. Furthermore, it is more than probable that the circular neck opening was copied from European dresses after the missionaries' wives had taught native women to sew. Circular neck openings, fringes, and serrations were rendered easier to make by the use of scissors which most women acquired from their teachers and from traders. It is probable that the decorative perforations made by the Mangaians on their ponchos (fig. 27) were also due to the acquisition of scissors.