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The Material Culture of the Cook Islands (Aitutaki)

Scope of the Work

Scope of the Work.

In historical traditions Rarotonga is probably the richest island in the group. For material culture, however, the loss of the pandanus removed facilities for studying the very important Polynesian craft of plaiting, as well as the technique of the pandanus house roof. Mangaia has peculiarities in material culture that prevent it from being regarded as typical of the Cook Group. It requires special attention to itself. Of the remaining two larger islands of the Group, Aitutaki and Atiu, the choice of the type island was decided by the Union Company's inter-island boat not calling at Atiu on its first run after my arrival in Rarotonga. In this all too brief page xxvexpedition, Aitutaki furnishes an introduction to the material culture of the Cook Islands. This work can only be regarded as an introduction. The comprehensive study of the group must of necessity be based on field work in each island. Apart from individual local differences of a minor nature, different islands have retained elements of the common culture that have disappeared in others. Thus Atiu and Mauke have specimens of the double canoe that have completely vanished from the other islands of the Group. This work therefore deals almost entirely with the material culture of Aitutaki as a type island of the Cook Group. Where material has been lacking in Aitutaki recourse has been made to material available from Rarotonga. The unforeseen necessity of seeing these notes through the press in New Zealand before leaving to take up further Polynesian research work with the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, has prevented the author from searching all the published literature that may bear on Aitutaki, or from endeavouring to obtain information regarding artifacts from Aitutaki that may be in other museums beyond that of Auckland. The excuse is offered in all sincerity that this work is an introduction to a subject that could only be so dealt with after a five weeks' residence on one island. So little was known in detail regarding the material culture of the Cook Group that it was felt that the publication of the present data would serve a useful purpose in providing material for the present intensive study of the Polynesian race.

At the end of each chapter there is a brief comparison with New Zealand. The points enumerated are merely the main points that have struck the author. Comparisons have been particularly made with New Zealand because the Cook Islanders are the nearest neighbours to New Zealand. Furthermore, tradition and genealogical tables link them and the Society Islanders as the nearest of kin to the Maori. Lastly, in work undertaken for the Board of Maori Ethnological Research, it is natural that the subject should be viewed from a New Zealand angle. Detailed comparisons with other Polynesian areas have been avoided, on the principle that the comparative study of the elements of Polynesian culture should await the completion of the survey of areas that is being carried out by the Bishop Museum.

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