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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

Domestic Utensils

Domestic Utensils.

Domestic utensils to contain fluids or foods may be divided into three classes corresponding to European cups, closed vessels, and dishes. These are represented by ipu, taha and kumete.

Small Vessels, Ipu.

Ipu rau hau. This is surely the most simple and primitive of all receptacles. An impermeable hollow was page 47required to contain a liquid during the short period of a meal. The liquid was the relish or sauce made from the expressed liquid of the scraped mature cocoanut mixed with sea water and termed tai hakari. A hollow was made in the ground beside the person sitting down to eat. Over this hollow the large green leaf of the hau was placed and pressed down to conform to the hollow. Into the leaf-lined hollow the tai hakari was poured, and the food was dipped into it ere being conveyed to the mouth. Hence the name of ipu rau hau—the hibiscus leaf cup.

Ipu hakari. The usual vessel for drinking purposes and to contain the tai hakari relish at a meal was a cocoanut shell split in half. They were kept as part of the household stock and in time had quite a polished appearance.

Wooden ipu, if used in olden times, had been quite forgotten.

Water Containers, Taha.

Owing to the liquid contained in green cocoanuts being so largely used for drinking purposes, water was not in such demand as in New Zealand.

For storing water for the more immediate culinary needs, besides the large wooden vessels to be later referred to, the large leaves of the kape species of taro were sometimes used to form vessels. These leaves do not become saturated and hence will not leak.

Containers for carrying water were necessary for going out to the smaller islets in the lagoon where there were no springs, and also for the old-time sea voyages. The Polynesians are usually accredited with three types of water vessel—lengths of bamboo, cocoanut shells and calabashes.


The bamboo (kohe) growing in Aitutaki is not particularly large and my informants denied its use as a water container on their island.

(2.)Cocoanut shells.

The ordinary-sized cocoanut shells were used to contain the tai hakori sauce. Only the large shells, such as those that grew at Nukuroa, were used for water. A hole was pierced at the end containing the eyes of the nut and a wooden or leaf stopper used. These large cocoanuts when used as water vessels were termed taha.

page 48

The ripe mature gourd of a species of Laginaria had a hole cut into it near the stalk end. The contents were cleaned out and a perfect receptacle for holding water was thus formed. The first gourd the author saw growing was stated to have been introduced from Rapanui. There was, however, a native gourd known as hue kava. This was used as a water container and was called a taha.

Wooden Vessels, kumete.

The term kumete, as applied to wooden food vessels, is widely spread throughout Polynesia. It is found in New Zealand. In Hawaii, owing to the peculiar letter changes that have occurred in the dialect, it is found in the form of umeke. In Aitutaki, the kumete is found in three forms, kumete roroa, kumete taupupu, and paroe.

Figure 47.—Kumete roroa.

Figure 47.—Kumete roroa.

Kumete roroa. This is the typical form found throughout the Cook Group. One diameter is much longer than the other, hence roroa, long. One end is beaked. Fig. 47.

Figure 48.—Dimensions of kumete roroa.

Figure 48.—Dimensions of kumete roroa.

page 49

The measurements of a typical kumete roroa are shown in Fig. 48. Some are very large. The bottom is flattened. They are usually without legs, though some may have four short legs as in Fig. 47.

Figure 49.Kumete taupupu.

Figure 49.
Kumete taupupu.

Kumete taupupu. In this type, the vessel is round, taupupu. Some of my informants maintain that the round kumete was a foreign introduction, but others held that it was native to Aitutaki. See Fig. 49.

Figure 50.Dimensions of kumete taupupu.

Figure 50.
Dimensions of kumete taupupu.

The dimensions of a typical vessel are shown in Fig. 50. It will be seen that there are two projections from the rim which serve as handles. One of them is grooved for pouring out liquids.

Figure 51.Paroe, large wooden vessel.

Figure 51.
Paroe, large wooden vessel.

page 50

Paroe. The paroe was a much larger vessel than the ordinary kumete class. Fig. 51. It was used for making large quantities of food for feasts. It was also used for mixing dyes for staining bark cloth and also for storing water.

Figure 52.Dimensions of paroe.

Figure 52.
Dimensions of paroe.

The dimensions of a large paroe at Vaipae are shown in Fig. 52.

All kumete were made of tamanu wood and were cut out of the solid. They are used as dishes in which to mix up the various compounds of arrowroot, taro, breadfruit, etc., which figured so largely in the diet of the islands.

Food Pounders, reruorpenu.

Food pounders were used for mashing foods such as taro and breadfruit in the bowls described above. In Rarotonga, a flat-topped table with very short legs was used to pound taro upon. They are circular or rectangular with rounded corners and were called papahia. No mention of them was made in Aitutaki. Pounders were also used to crush leaves, bark or roots in the preparation of dyes and medicine. They were made of wood, bone and stone.

Figure 53.Wooden food pounder, penu.

Figure 53.
Wooden food pounder, penu.

page 51

Wooden Pounders. These were generally made of tamanu. They are long, round in section and are not so flared at the bottom as the stone pounders. The handle end is surmounted by a knob. The example shown in Fig. 53 is 11½ inches long and 2½ inches in diameter across the bottom, which was quite flat.

Bone Pounders. Pounders were said to have been made of whalebone, ivi tohora., but no specimens were seen.

Stone Pounders. These will be described under the heading of Stonework.