Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)



Preparation of Leaf.

Inaina. The green leaf of the rauhara is drawn through the fire to render it softer for splitting (e ina ki te ahi, ka mae).

Kohore. The object now is to split the leaf transversely in order to separate the shiny surface (aro) from the duller under surface (tua). The midrib of the leaf is first trimmed down on the under surface (ka patere te ivi rauhara). If the edges of the leaf have marked serrations, they are also trimmed off. The splitting (kohore), is commenced at the tip (kauru) end. This end is cut straight across with a kahi shell. The shell is then used to split the aro surface away from the back surface. When it has been separated completely across the width of the leaf, and worked downwards sufficiently, it may be seized with one hand and gently torn downwards away from the thicker back or under part of the leaf. The operator, who is squatting cross-legged on the ground, has the butt end of the leaf between her knees to keep the leaf taut. As the splitting works down, she pays out the slack between her knees. When the separation is completed, the back part of the leaf is rejected. The anterior aro part is used for the border designs and is now called pāpā. It ceases to be rauhara. In this kohore process, kohore corresponds to the Maori tihore. In the Maori method of preparing flax fibre the tihore method consists of tearing away the full width of fibre from the back part of the blade of flax. The Maori also calls the front or upper surface of the blade, the aro or aroaro, and the back portion or under surface, the tuara. In both dialects the terms and meanings are identical.

Hiri. The tip ends are plaited into a three-ply braid to keep them together.

page 122

Pae ki te tai. The strips are then soaked in the sea from three to five days. A stick is driven into a sandy bottom to which the hiri is attached.

Tāmā ki te vai. The strips are washed in fresh water to get rid of the para or extraneous material and salt.

Tauraki. The plaits are hung up to dry in the sun.

Hatuhatu. When dry, the strips are cut off the three-ply braid and each leaf folded (hatuhatu) into convenient lengths of about six inches.

Treatment with Lime. The folded strips are loosened and immersed in a solution of coral lime (ngaika). They may be left there for about three days, but the time is judged by the yellowish colour that the strips assume. They are then washed, dried and folded again into lengths of about six inches. The material takes the dye much better and gives a brighter red, after treatment with lime.

The dye that is used is red. Imported dyes are in much demand. The dyeing of the leaf with a red dye is a modern innovation, but the red borders of the Cook Island mats are now so characteristic, that the technique of the preparation of the leaf is here described. The old people held that black was the only colour used with the mat borders in ancient days. The Aitutakians maintained that, though a red dye was used in colouring bark cloth, it was not used to colour strips for plaiting borders. The Rarotongans, on the other hand, maintain that a native red dye was used to colour the papa strips, and describe the preparation as follows:—

Native Red Dye, Rarotonga.

The papa strips are prepared as described. The roots of the nono were scraped and the juice expressed or squeezed out (kumu) through a piece of cocoanut palm (kaka) into a wooden bowl. This was mixed with coral lime. The papa was then soaked in the mixture until it had assumed the right depth of colour. The red is somewhat dark (muramura kerekere) and rot nearly so bright as the European dyes. The papa strips were then dried.

An earth oven was prepared of not too great a heat. The stones were covered with leaves, the papa strips placed on them and the oven covered with more leaves. The heat fixed the dye.

page 123

Some people maintain that the dyeing with red was introduced from Manihiki. The Manihiki people are also credited with the introduction of the use of lime in these solutions. It is also said that the dyed papa strips were originally traded from Manihiki in exchange for the black strips of the plantain, which does not grow in the Northern Islands. Be that as it may, the technique is certainly native and thus worthy of reference.

Black Strips in Coloured Borders.

(1).Skin of the Plantain, ha vehi. This dye was provided by Nature, or as the old lady put it, "Na te Atua i homai" (God gave it). The butt ends of the plantain leaves, ha vehi, are covered with a shiny black skin. These are cut off where the colour is deep and the outer skin peeled off. Any spongy matter that adheres to the inner surface is scraped off with a shell. The strips are hung up to dry in the wind and then stored for use. The black colour is on the outer side only.

The plantain is called vehi in Aitutaki and hutu in Rarotonga. Vehi corresponds to the fei of Tahiti, which when eaten, is supposed to produce the same disinclination to seek other climes as the lotus did to the lotus eaters of European myth.

(2).A Native black dye, in which human assistance was required, is described in Rarotonga. The inner bark of the candlenut, tuitui, was scraped into a bowl and pounded with a beater. The liquid was then expressed through cocoanut palm kaka. to form the dyeing solution. In this papa strips were soaked for three days. It was then fixed by heat in an earth oven as in the preparation with the native red dye. When placed in the oven on one day, it was taken out on the following morning.

The next stage was to immerse the strips in the mud of a taro swamp for four to five days. The strips were afterwards washed, dried and then folded for future use. The colour was a deep black right through the strips. An alternative name for the candlenut tree is tuiti.