Ethnology of Tongareva
In plaiting, two sets of crossing wefts have to be provided, which, starting from the same commencing line, have to be crossed diagonally to right and left. The wefts running toward the right are termed “dextral,” and those to the left, “sinistral.” In crossing, the wefts are passed alternately above and below one weft in check plaiting or alternately above and below two or more wefts to form “twilled” plaiting. With the open leaflets check plaiting is used, and with the closed leaflets twilled plaiting is used. In making the Tongarevan plaited articles, the twilled-two is the only twilled technique used, but it is usual for the plaiter to commence with one or two rows of checks to fix the wefts in position, and then to complete the article in twilled-twos.
In the natural coconut leaf the leaflets are directed obliquely out and toward the tip end of the leaf. The plaiter places the leaf strip transversely with the midrib strip toward her and the natural upper surface of the leaf up. A strip from the right side of the leaf will, in this position, have the leaflets directed naturally toward the left at an oblique angle to form natural sinistral wefts. A midrib strip from the left side of the leaf has the leaflet directed in the opposite direction, and the leaflets form natural dextral wefts. In plaiting with the leaflets from one side of a leaf the alternate leaflets have to be bent at right angles to their normal direction to provide the crossing elements required. If only one article is required at the time, the plaiter cuts off a section of coconut leaf of the required length from a part not too near the butt or the tip, in order that the leaflets may be even and long. She takes the left side of the leaf in preference to the right and splits off the strip, which, when placed in position before her, provides a set of natural dextrals. It is easier to work from left to right with naturally directed dextral wefts.
Commencing on the left, the plaiter interlaces the adjacent wefts until she gets a sufficient depth to form a convenient working section. The right edge of the working section will be termed the working edge. It is composed of a number of dextral wefts termed working dextrals, which are separated into page 125 two sets by the left hand: alternate ones, in check plaiting; and alternate twos, in twilled-two plaiting. One set of working dextrals is left recumbent, whereas the other set is raised. Into the shed formed by separating the two sets a single sinistral weft is laid by the right hand. The working edge is thus obliquely inclined upward and to the left from the commencement edge formed by the midrib strip, and it is defined by the last sinistral weft (working sinistral) placed in the shed. The next movement consists of dropping the top raised working dextral, picking up the recumbent dextral below it, and so alternately dropping and picking up the two sets of working dextrals from above, downward. When the two sets have thus changed position the last added sinistral will have been fixed in the plaiting. The last movement besides fixing the sinistral weft has, however, prepared a shed for the next sinistral. After each movement the next two leaflets to the right are added to the working edge. Of these two, the one on the right forms the sinistral and has to be bent with the right hand over the leaflet on its left, which thus forms the lowest of the working dextrals. In Tongareva the new sinistral is passed over the new dextral; and it necessarily follows from the method observed at the start that the lowest of the working dextrals from the last movement is raised. The newly added dextral must be left recumbent, and this has been done by crossing the new sinistral above it. A convenient number of working dextrals in check plaiting with the open leaflet is six or eight. With each movement the top dextral is dropped and ceases to act as a working dextral in the working section being plaited. The new dextral added from below brings the number of working dextrals to normal, and so the working section works across to the right with the same number of working dextrals in each movement. The depth of the working section remains the same throughout.
In check plaiting with the open leaflet the one side of the coconut leaf midrib forms the commencement edge. The open leaflet makes a weft wide enough for a close surface, which, however, on drying, shows spaces between the wefts. Because of the one thickness of the leaf the article is not strong and is soon discarded. However, material is abundant and manufacture simple, and articles made with the open leaflet are only meant to serve the immediate purpose. As other needs arise, fresh articles are quickly made. (See raurau basket, fig. 15.)
The closed leaflet is used to make stronger articles which are used for a longer period. The closed leaflet, however, is only half the width of the open leaflet, and if the method of crossing alternate leaflets from one side of the leaf midrib were used, the spaces between the wefts would make the plaited article too open, so that small objects would drop through. To get a close plait with the closed leaflets the two sets of leaflets from each side of the page 126 leaf are used. All the leaflets from one side form the dextrals, and all the leaflets from the other side form the sinistrals. There are two forms of commencement edge which make this possible, the full midrib commencement and the two-strip commencement.
The full midrib commencement (fig. 13) is used in making wall screens. The leaflets from one side of the midrib function in the normal direction as dextrals or sinistrals, and those from the opposite side are bent across the midrib and interlaced in the opposite direction.
Figure 13. Plaiting technique, full midrib commencement. a, full leaf section with natural dextrals (1, 2) on far side; leaflets on near side form sinistrals, doubled over midrib and passed obliquely under its opposite dextral; first dextral (1) raised by left hand while opposite leaflet (1′) is bent over midrib and passed under raised dextral with right hand. b, next dextral (2) raised, but dextral (1) above it left down to comply with check technique; opposite leaflet (2′) bent over leaf midrib and passed under dextral (2) and over 1; next dextral (3) raised; opposite leaflet (3′) becomes working sinistral. c, check technique has been established and full working edge of six dextrals (1–6) built up; top dextral dropped with each movement and new dextral picked up; leaflet from near side of leaf midrib placed in shed formed as sinistral; first two sinistrals (1′, 2′) are twisted in at left edge to show how side edges are formed with half-twist of leaflet as they are turned in to function as dextrals. Plaiting carried on for full length of leaf segment.
The two-strip commencement (fig. 14) is used in the better types of basket. The midrib is split on either side so that strips bearing the leaflets are separated from the intermediate thick part of the midrib, which is discarded. To form a better edge, the leaflets of each strip, following their natural direction, are twisted over the leaflet immediately in front. The two strips are then placed together, the sinistral bearing strip above the other.
The plaiter keeps an extra section of coconut leaf beside her. In plaiting baskets with the closed leaflet, if she finds that the space between two wefts in the same direction is too great for neat plaiting, she tears a leaflet off from the required side of the leaf section and includes it as an extra weft by placing the butt end between the two midrib strips forming the commencement edge. (See fig. 17, a.)page 127
Side edges are formed by turning in the sinistrals on the left and the dextrals on the right as they successively reach the left or right end of the plaiting. The weft may be twisted over as it is turned in, thereby exposing the opposite side of the leaf, or with closed leaflets they may be bent in directly without turning the weft over.
Figure 14. Plaiting technique, two-strip commencement. a, leaflet twisted forward in natural direction under leaflet (2) in front, then 2 under 3 and 3 under 4; twisting continued toward right throughout length of leaf. b, strip from other side of leaf dealt with similarly but in opposite direction, from right to left, which follows natural direction of leaflets; leaflet 1 under 2, and 2 under 3, and so to end of strip. c, the two strips placed together with sinistral-bearing strip (1) above other; sinistral strip (1) cut away on right to show twisted dextral strip (2) beneath; the two sets of leaflets now cross each other naturally and are plaited in check as shown on left of figure.
The finish of the plaiting is formed by braiding the leaflets in three-ply. If the finish is an edge, such as the rim of the raurau baskets, all the weft ends are included in one course of a three-ply braid. Where the finish forms the functional bottom of a basket the weft ends from both sides of the basket form a double quantity which cannot be neatly braided in one course. The sides are brought together, and, holding the plaiting with one end away from the worker, it will be found that on each side one set of wefts inclines toward the plaiter and the other set away from her. Commencing at the far end, the wefts inclining towards the worker on either side are plaited in the usual three-ply braid. On reaching the near end, the basket ends are reversed. It will be found that the remaining set of wefts on either side is now inclined toward the worker. The end of the braid, which is now at the far end, is doubled over, and the braid is continued toward the worker by plaiting in the remaining wefts alternately from either side. When the near end is reached the weft ends are continued on as a braid tail and the end knotted. This will be referred to as the two-course braid finish, in contrast with the single braid finish mentioned above. (For details of two-course braid finish see 29, pp. 191, 192.)