The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)
Footwear. — Sandals, Tamaka
Sandals did not form part of the wearing outfit of everyday use. The soles of the feet were hard enough for ordinary progression, but even they had to be protected against the sharp points on the coral reef, where so much time was spent in procuring fish and shell-fish.
Sandals, tamaka, are made from the bast, of the hau, which is separated from the outer bark after immersion in sea water, and then dried.
The bast is twisted into long single-ply cords by means of a short stick. One end of a strip is held with the left hand and the end of the stick twisted a couple of times round the single bast strip. Fig. 84. By rotating the stick with the right hand, the bast is twisted on itself into a rounded cord. As the strip twists, the stick keeps travelling back along the untwisted part. A fresh piece is added by page 94overlapping the ends for a few inches and continuing the twist over them.
When a sufficient length to form one sandal has been twisted, the bast strip is split into three equal parts and plaited into a three-ply braid, fresh pieces being added as required. The other end, which has been left long before the twist commencement, is also split and plaited into a three-ply braid.
The twisted part of the long cord goes to form the longitudinal elements of the sole of the sandal, and the braided ends go to form the transverse elements and the curds for tying on the sandal.
Implements. Two sticks not quite as thick as the little finger and 14 and 16 inches long respectively, are required. Both are pointed at one end and the shorter one, usually of iron wood, has the blunt end split for a couple of inches. See Fig. 85B.
Technique. The longer stick is held between the big and second toes of either foot. The feet, which are kept apart a little wider than the proposed width of the sandal, rest on the outer sides with the soles turned inwards.
One end of the twisted bast, near the braid junction, is passed over the forward stick from the inner side of the right big toe, brought round the stick between it and the second toe, up over the dorsum of the big toe and round to the right between the big toe and the stick, as in Fig. 86. In the figure the reader is looking down at the sticks as if he were carrying out the technique. The twist round the big toe fixes one end of the twisted cord. The main part of the cord is now to the left. It is neatly coiled for ease in passing backwards and forwards.
The second stick is held parallel to the first and at the distance required by the length of the sandal. In Aitutaki the second stick was not sharpened and was held by the pressure of the feet near the two heels. In Rarotonga, a Mangaian, who demonstrated the technique, held the stick with his left hand.
The next step is to provide the crossing elements which will correspond to the weft in weaving. The braid end of the cord that is twisted round the right big toe, is unwound and brought back under the front stick towards the posterior stick. On the left side the braid end of the cord forms the continuation of the last longitudinal length that passed back over the front stick. The posterior stick separates the two alternate sets of longitudinal lengths, which we shall now term warps. The posterior stick provides a shed through which the braided ends may cross from either side as wefts. The turns round the posterior stick define the back margin of the sandal. Before the regular crossings of the two braids take place, a heel loop has to be provided. This is provided by the right braid which, in Fig. 87, is denoted as A. The right braid, A, is passed across from right to left along the shed provided by the posterior stick. After emerging from the left side, it forms the loop, H, and re-entering on the right, again passes through to the left. The left braid, B, now passes along the same shed to emerge on the right.
The fingers of both hands now work in from each side, the thumbs pressing down the warps that are above the crossed braids, A and B, and the fingers picking up the warps that are below them. This crosses the sets of alternate warps and provides a new shed for the wefts A and B. These are promptly passed through from either side as in Fig. 88b.
Again the upper series of warps is pushed down with the thumbs and the lower set raised on the forefingers to provide a fresh shed for the wefts A and B, which are passed through from either side and pulled taut. This process is continued as long as it is possible for the fingers to do it.
When the wefts A and B pass from the fifth to the sixth crossing, the short posterior stick is passed through the loops made by the weft braids at the side margins. It is left in this position to prevent the loops being drawn taut against the margins, Fig. 89. These two side loops are to be subsequently used in lacing the sandals.
As the uncrossed parts of the longitudinal warps get shorter towards the toes, it becomes impossible for the fingers to separate the alternate sets. This is now done with the shorter stick, which is slipped out of the side loops. The point of the stick is pushed down between the first two warps on the right and passes under the first lower warp. This is levered up and the point passes over the next upper warp to pass down to lever up the next lower warp. In this manner by working across to the left, all the lower page 98warps are levered up and the others pushed down. The stick now occupies the correct shed for the next weft row.
The left-hand braid weft B has to pass across the same course as A. This is very neatly done. The braid weft A, close to where it emerges on the left margin, has one of its three plies loosened and pulled up to leave an opening between it and the other two plies. Through this opening the fine end of the braid B is passed, as in Fig. 90b. The loop of the braid A on the right margin is then pulled and the part carrying the end of B is drawn through. When B emerges on the right margin it is detached from A and its slack pulled taut. A, which, owing to its length, still has its end on the left, is now pulled taut from the left and the weft line is completed.
The stick between the toes is removed. The last loops which were kept patent by that stick are each twisted with the fingers and placed over the point of the cord-carrying stick. The two weft braids are crossed in the manner described above, and the actual making of the sandal is thus completed.
All that is now necessary is to tighten up the work. Starting from the heel end, the braids A and B are drawn taut from the loops at the sides. Each row is done in turn, page 99the succeeding row drawing in the slack from the row above. By pulling the wefts simultaneously on each side, the warps are drawn tightly together to form a compact sole. The two side loops are left at a convenient size and the rows below them tightened until the whole sandal is firm and all slack is drawn out into the two long braids A and B, which emerge from either end of the toe margin. See Fig. 85, which shows the heel loops above, the smaller side loops, and the two braids below.
Wearing. Both the heel loop and the two front cords are called kaveivei tamaka and the two side loops, taringa (ears). In putting on the sandal, the two front cords are passed between the first and second and the fourth and fifth toes respectively. They cross the dorsum of the foot to pass through the heel loop, recross on the dorsum to pass through the side loops, and are then tied round the ankles.
The sandal may be reversed to distribute the wear over both surfaces. In fishing the sandals are often reversed to avert bad luck.
Remarks. The sandal technique is the technique of check weaving. The stick held between the toes is surely the most primitive beam over which the warp elements could be arranged. The posterior stick supplied the other part of the loom for stretching the warps taut. The fingers and later the posterior stick, took the place of the heddle in changing the alternating sets of warps to provide the shed for the crossing braids which were true wefts. The fingers again, by pushing up the weft rows to bring them close together, performed the functions of a comb. The work proceeded forwards or away from the body and again supplied one of the characteristics of loom weaving.