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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

Kinds of Bark Cloth

Kinds of Bark Cloth.

General. The general name for bark cloth in Aitutaki is pahoa. The commonly-known name of tapa is not known. There is a distinction of name between the cloth made from different trees. That from the breadfruit tree is inaina, and that from the banyan, hora. We have seen that the loin-cloth or maro made from the papako tree is termed a maro papako.

An individual distinction in name was derived from the different processes of dyeing to which the pahoa was subjected. The kinds described were seven, hapaha, pungavere, rarua, pahoa verevere ki te repo, piri, pareu and inaina. It is more convenient to describe the various dyes and processes under the heading of the kind of cloth with which they are used.

1. Hapaha.

The pahoa cloth prepared from the bast of the Broussonetia, when dyed yellow with dye obtained from the page 81roots of the renga, nono, or kawapiu, was called hapaha. Of these dyes that from the renga was the best.

Yellow Dye. The roots of the renga were washed and then scraped on a stone or rubbed (oro) with rough coral. In the case of the nono, the outer bark of the roots was removed with a kahi shell, and the scrapings of the inner part of the roots utilised. The roots of the kawapiu were like the renga.

The scrapings of whichever root is used, are placed in a wooden bowl and thoroughly mixed with water by working with the hands. The insoluble material was strained off, tatau, by scooping it up with dried strips of hau bark and wringing the fluid out as in the preparation of kava in Western Polynesia. The colour is brightened by squeezing a lime into the liquid. On my suggestion that limes were a recent introduction, an old man said that in his youth he had noticed old women adding sea-water, when limes were not obtainable.

Treatment. The pahoa cloth was placed in a large wooden bowl paroe, and immersed in the dye. It was kept in until examination showed that it had reached the right depth of colour. This was a question of individual judgement. The cloth was removed and spread out to dry.

Use. Hapaha is the correct cloth to spread over a mother after child-birth. When the after-birth has been disposed of and the mother washed, she is placed on a clean bed in another part of the one-roomed house and a sheet of hapaha cloth spread over her as a quilt. This is still being carried out as the nurse who attended confinements informed me. Another appropriate bed-spread on such occasions is the hora cloth made from the banyan.

2. Pungavere.

In this variety, the pahoa is dyed red.

Red Dye. The basis of the red dye is the grape-like berries of the mati. The ends of the ripe berries are pinched off kinikini, and put into water in a wooden bowl. They are left until the water becomes clouded or grey, when they are removed. The fluid is now termed wai mati.

Leaves of the tou are now rubbed and crushed between the fingers and dropped into the mati water. The water turns red. The leaves are left in until the colour is judged to be of the right depth, when they are removed.

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The last stage is to add some of the creamy fluid expressed from the grated cocoanut.

Treatment. The cloth is soaked in this dye until it reaches the right shade of red The particular deep shade of red is termed kutekute. The cloth is dried and thus changes from pahoa to pungavere.

3. Rarua.

In this variety, the same red dye was used as with the pungavere. Instead of soaking the whole material in the dye, patterns were worked with the dye frame of leaflet midribs. The only patterns remembered were the crossed lines already described as ngaito and okaoka.

4. Pahoa Verevere ki te Repo.

Here the colour scheme is black.

Black Dye. The plants used were the iron wood and the candle-nut.

The inner bark of the caudle-nut tree is scraped from the stripped bark with a shell, put in a wooden bowl and pounded. The sap was then expressed through a taka of plaited hau bark, exactly similar to that used in the preparation of cocoanut oil. This liquid is called vavai hiri and will keep well in a cocoanut or gourd container until required.

The inner bark of the iron wood is treated in a similar manner. The two component parts of the dye are kept separately and are used as follows:—

Treatment. The pahoa cloth is soaked in the vavai hiri and left until it turns reddish in colour. It is then dried. When thoroughly dry it is soaked in the iron wood liquid which turns the cloth dark. It is again dried.

It is now cooked in an earth oven. The oven is first lined with the bark of the banana stem, pihoro, and above that is spread a layer of candle-nut leaves. The cloth is placed above and covered over. When judged to be cooked, the expert opens sufficient of the covering to procure a piece of cloth, which is tasted. From the taste it can readily be known whether the garment is sufficiently cooked. When cooked, maoa, the cloth is removed and dried in the sun till it is hard, maro.

When dry and hard the cloth is pressed down in the mud of a taro swamp. This intensifies the black colour. It is kept in the mud just sufficiently long for the cloth to page 83acquire the right hue of black. It is then taken out, washed and dried. The pahoa has been subjected to treatment with mud, repo, and hence the somewhat long name of pahoa verevere ki te repo.

5. Piri.

The pahoa is stuck in the mud of a taro swamp for one day. It is then washed and dried.

The sap, toto, of the tamanu tree is collected in a cocoanut shell and mixed with cocoanut oil in a wooden bowl. After duly soaking the cloth in it, it is dried in the sun, parena ki te ra. When dried the cloth still feels sticky, piri, To stick. This type of cloth is usually referred to as varnished. It is less affected by the wet, owing to having been oiled.

6. Pareu.

The term pareu refers to a distinct type of cloth and is not derived from its being used as a kilt or pareu. In fact, it is used as a bed-cover and not as a kilt.

Treatment. The pahoa is soaked in the candle-nut mixture, vavai hiri, and dried, when it assumes a reddish-brown colour. On this background, black lines are drawn, with the black mud of a taro swamp as a pigment, and the pandanus kati hara as a brush. The lines are drawn freehand. According to my informants, they are straight and not curved.

7. Inaina.

According to my Arutanga authority, inaina was the name of cloth prepared from the bark of the breadfruit. A Tautu authority stated that it was also a variety in which the pahoa was coated with cocoanut oil, hinu hakari. This gave the cloth a shiny appearance, karaparapa. As the latter authority also described the piri type in which cocoanut oil was used, there was no confusion between the two varieties.