Ethnology of Tongareva
Clothing and Adornment
Clothing and Adornment
Although European garments are in general use, the native clothing is described. In the climate of Tongareva the use of clothing as a protection against the weather is not necessary. The people meet the excessive heat of page 139 the noonday sun by seeking the shade of their houses. The main use for clothing is for concealment, or as the people themselves phrase it, e puipui i tona aro (to conceal his or her anterior). The dictates of modesty were formerly met by the men in the wearing of perineal bands (maro). The women wore kilts (titi), waist garments which do not fall below the knees. In addition to these two essential articles which differentiate the sexes, capes, eye shades, and head dresses were worn on occasion.
The poverty of food plants in Tongareva is accompanied by a poverty in textile plants. The ti plant (Cordyline terminalis), which furnishes the working kilts on many islands, the hau (Hibiscus tiliaceus), which furnishes dance kilts, and paper mulberry, aute (Broussonetia papyrifera), which provides bark cloth, are absent from the flora of Tongareva. The coconut palm is a clothing plant as well as the food plant. Its leaflets take the place of the ti and the material at the base of the leaves takes the place of paper mulberry (aute). The hala supplies the men's garments with waist cords.
The perineal band (maro) consists of a long strip of coconut textile (kaka) about a handsbreadth in width and a dry Pandanus leaf (lauhala; rau hara) trimmed of its spines and scraped on both surfaces with a shell to soften it and render it more pliable. The lauhala is cut long enough to form the waist band. One end of the leaf is knotted to the end of the coconut textile. The free end of the textile is held against the abdomen, and the attached end is passed between the legs so that the strip covers the genitals and perineum. The lauhala is drawn taut and brought around to the front above the right hip, passed around the waist over the part of the textile held up in front, carried to the back, looped around its commencement, and knotted to the textile in the middle line. The free end of the textile strip is dropped over the waistband and hangs down in front in the same manner as the bark cloth maro used on other islands.
Lamont (15, p. 111) states: “The men only wear a small ‘marow’ fastened around the loins, and the children are completely naked.” Wilkes (31, vol. 4, p. 279) also states that the men wore no clothing except a small maro. Lamont does not mention the material of which the “marow” was made, but Smith (23, p. 98), in using Lamont's description, inferred that it was coconut leaves, and Kotzebue (14, p. 218) stated that the men wore bunches of coconut leaves tied to a cord. As demonstrated to me at Omoka, the correct material for a maro is kaka. (See pl. 4, D.)
The kilt (titi) worn by the women is made of coconut leaflets (kata nikau) which are split (toetoe) into narrow widths with the thumb nail. The leaflet midribs are discarded (ka hakiri te haniu). The strips are then beaten (tuki) to soften them (kia hunga). Kotzebue (14, p. 218) is in page 140 error when he states that the women's girdles were made with strips of bast hanging loosely.
In some kilts the ends of the leaflet strip are braided (hiri) to form waistbands from which the strips hang down, as in the titi kilts made of ti leaves which are used in many Polynesian islands. In other kilts the leaflet strips are plaited (raranga) in check for a short depth down from the waist band.
Lamont (15, p. 110), who saw the Tongarevans when nothing but native clothing was worn, states:
The dress of the … [women] consisted merely of a kind of short kilt, called a “titche,” formed of a quantity of coconut leaves, slit into fine strips like grass, and fastened to a cord at the top, which secured it round the loins. The mass of hay, as it might well be considered, drops down to near the knee, where it is cut square off and sloped up a little on the one side, coquettishly showing the proportion of the leg more than would be considered strictly decorous in discreet society.
In Lamont's spelling of “titche” is seen his recognition of the sibilant sound of titi. Smith (23, p. 98) confounded Lamont's spelling of “titche” with the Maori word, “tihei,” with which titi has no affinity.
Though not mentioned by any informants, a kilt of bast was made for wear by chiefs on festive occasions. In describing a dance at Hakasusa Lamont (15, p. 316) says: “The chiefs had also long belts, plaited at the waist, hanging down in a fringe to the knee. This part of their dress was made from bark of a light color, and on their swarthy bodies looked well.”
The “belts” mentioned were evidently titi kilts of the plaited waistband type. The “bark of a light color” was probably the bast of the tou which was used for ornamental fringes in Manihiki. That it was worn by chiefs at a dance indicates that the garment was rare and did not figure as ordinary clothing.
The cape or mantle (parua) was made of coconut leaflets split into narrow strips, plaited with a fine plait, and worn over the shoulders. The garment was well known traditionally by its correct name of parua, but a sample could not be reconstructed. Lamont (15, p. 110) refers to it as follows:
They sometimes, also, wear what is called a “pariew,” a short mantle of matting made from the coconut leaf, split as fine as straw and plaited in such a way that it narrows up towards the neck, round which it is fastened, fitting on the shoulders and falling below the waist.
Smith (23, p. 98) converted Lamont's spelling of “pariew” in “pareu” from his knowledge of the use of pareu in the Cook Islands. In the Cook Islands, however, pareu denotes a kilt and has no affinity with the Tongarevan cape. In referring to clothing Kotzebue (14, p. 218) states:page 141
Only a few of them had a scanty covering for the shoulder. This consists of a coarse mat in two pieces, made of cocoa-leaf. A part of the middle rib, on which the little leaves grow, forms the under edge of this basket-like mantle. Sometimes bleached pandanus leaves are braided between for ornament.
Kotzebue's description seems to indicate that the mantle was made with the two-strip commencement technique which formed the lower edge of the garment like the rim of a basket. His “basket-like mantle” suggests a garment plaited as an open cylinder or cuff like a basket and in which the upper narrowed circumference would probably be finished off with circumferential three-ply braid, thus forming a kind of poncho. Kotzebue refers to it as a coarse mat, but Lamont states clearly that the leaflets were split as fine as straw. They may have been describing different types of mantle.
My informants stated that a larger cape, termed kausoa, was made, but they were unable to give details except that it was made of coconut leaflets after the manner of the parua cape. Lamont (15, p. 155) states: “I should have mentioned at the same time that the parieu is sometimes made large and double, serving them as a dress by day, or as a covering by night, when it is opened out. This is called a ‘cau sho,’ but is not in general use.”
Lamont's statement that the double cape was “opened out” to serve “as a covering by night” indicates that the garment described could not have been plaited with a basket closed-in technique to form a poncho.
As in the names of three other garments, Smith (23, p. 98) incorrectly transposed Lamont's “cau sho” into the Maori “kahu” because he saw resemblances to words in other dialects. The liability to error without checking up with field work is shown by a comparison of the spellings.
|Double Cape||cau sho||kahu||kausoa|
Two types of head dress (pare) were enumerated, the pare taumata and the pare maka. The pare taumata, or simply taumata, was the eye shade made of coconut leaflets shown in figure 19.
The use of the double commencement strip, the situation of the midrib strip on the front edge of the peak, and the braiding of two free tails to form the supporting band around the head are characteristic of the Tongarevan eye shade. It is a much neater technique than the Samoan, with a single midrib strip used to commence the side of the shade, and a prolonged length of the strip for the head band (29, fig. 124).page 142
The pare maka is known only from song. Kotzebue (14, p. 218) states that a few people had head dresses of black feathers. Lamont (15, p. 316) refers to the wearing of sennit braid tied around the head at a festival.
Figure 19. Eye shade (pare taumata) : a, midrib strip about 9.5 inches long and bearing about 10 leaflets is taken from opposite sides of coconut leaf; sinistral-bearing strip (1) placed above other (2) and, with midrib strips toward worker and shiny surface of leaflets up, the two sets of crossing elements are plaited in check with leaflets opened out; side edges (3, 4) defined by half turns of leaflets as these successively reach margins; check plaiting continues for depth of about 8.5 inches, when sinistral weft ends (5) incline toward left and dextral weft ends (6) toward right. b, plaiting turned sideways so that free plaiting edge lies longitudinal to worker and to right; dextral wefts inclined toward worker and plaited into three-ply braid; first ply (1) formed of the four nearest wefts, which are grouped together; second ply (2) formed of the next three wefts which are brought behind nearest four sinistral wefts (4) and crossed from right over first ply; three remaining wefts (5) form third ply. c, last three wefts brought in front of sinistral wefts (6) and behind first four sinistral wefts (4) to form third ply (3), which enters braid from left by crossing over second ply (2) to middle position; the three plies plaited as free braid tail for about 13 inches, fixed with overhand knot, and leaflet ends cut off. Plaiting edge reversed so that remaining set of leaflets are directed toward worker; the three plies are formed in same way as the other, and free braid tail plaited and knotted; ends of two free tails brought together and tied in reef knot, and loop adjusted to size of head. (See pl. 4.)
The types of clothing described do not lend themselves to any marked specialization in technique for distinctions of rank. All men use the maro. The memory of the maro for chiefs is evident in the term “tangata maro kura” applied to chiefs, but the maro kura (red girdle) does not exist in any material form. The women expend some care on their coconut leaf kilts and are adverse to getting them wet, for aesthetic reasons. The kilts are cut off square and slope up a little on one side to display a certain amount of leg. Thus, fashion rules as well as utility. Also, a woman takes pride in making a new kilt when she is about to make a visit to another community. Lamont (15, p. 314), in describing the crossing between Motukohiti and Hangarei, mentions his wife's new kilt:page 143
I hastened to the rescue, and carried the provisions safe to land; but the beautiful “tiche,” in which she was to present herself before my friends of Sararak, no longer descended in a graceful fall, but hung around her like a dripping “raurau” [sweep net of split coconut leaves]. We had to call a halt whilst she retired to a remote part of the island to dry this elegant garment in the sun; meanwhile I entertained myself by “prospecting” among the provision baskets.
The parua cape is worn by both women and men. Lamont (15, p. 132) says that women always removed it when dancing the “shukai” (haka). The use of ornamentation is seen in Kotzebue's statement (14, p. 218) that bleached lauhala was sometimes braided between the coconut leaflets “for ornament.” Wilkes (31, vol. 4, p. 279) mentions a mantle:
Few evidences of rank were observed among them and but one was seen who had the appearance of being a chief. This was an old man, who was seated in the centre of a canoe, paddled by fifteen natives, who were striving hard to overtake the brig. He wore a sort of mantle of plaited leaves over his shoulders, with a fillet of leaves on his head, and his whole bearing and conduct betokened authority.
The further statement of Wilkes that only two or three men wore short mantles may indicate that the parua cape was worn more by chiefs.
Particular types of head dress usually serve to distinguish social status. The coconut leaflet eye shade (pare taumata) was worn by all. The head dresses of black feathers seen by Kotzebue (14, p. 218) would undoubtedly serve to distinguish a particular status among the people. Tupou Isaia knew nothing about them but stated that a pare maka head dress was mentioned in a song:
Titia mai to titi maire,
Seia mai to sei rauru
Parea mai to pare maka.
Gird on your fragrant kilt,
Tie on your necklet of human hair,
Put on your maka head dress.
The use of the term “kilt” implies that the song was addressed to a woman, but Lamont's description of a festival dance shows that kilts with plaited waistbands and made of bast were definitely used by chiefs on such occasions. (See page 78.) The special material and technique makes it probable that it received a special name, and it may be the “titi maire” alluded to above, for, although the maire is a fragrant plant in the Cook Islands, it does not grow in Tongareva. The word is thus likely to have been transferred to some other kilt used in festivals. The chiefs wearing the kilts also wore many folds of broad “sinnet” bound round their heads. Anything worn around the head comes under the term “pare,” and the sennit folds around the head may quite possibly be the “pare maka” referred to in the song. The “sei rauru” necklet of human hair was worn by both sexes. The song thus sums up the main items of adornment possible to chiefs on page 144 festive occasions: a special form of kilt, the hair necklet, and headdress possibly consisting of turns of broad sennit.
The conclusion is reached that the lack of plants providing a suitable bast or textile fiber has prohibited the development of special garments to mark differences in social status.
The men and women wear their hair long. When battles are impending the women cut their hair short to offer less hold to the opposing members of their own sex.
Coconut oil is used to rub over the body. This is prepared by placing pieces of mature sakari nut on the fire until it becomes burned. The burned nut is then chewed and the oil extracted is spit out on the hands and rubbed over the body. The oil is prepared immediately before use and is not made in quantity for storing in coconut shells.
A necklet of braided human hair (sei) is worn around the neck by both sexes. Lamont (15, p. 137) describes a sei received as a present from a woman of Omoka as “a thick bunch of finely plaited human hair, such as we see guard chains made of at home.” Kotzebue (14, p. 217) states that he noticed “several old men who had suffered their thumb-nails to grow, a speaking testimony of their privileged idleness. In one, the nail which was bent inwards, had reached the length of between two and three inches.” Wilkes (31, vol. 4, p. 279) says: “For ornaments they had strands of human hair braided and decorated with finger nails half an inch long, and two to each strand.” The long thumb-nails that Kotzebue saw were thus not signs of the privilege of idleness but were left to grow to form ornaments for the sei necklets. When the lack of ornamental material is considered, the use of finger nails seems reasonable.
Tattooing was not practised in ancient times. After Tongarevans had gone away as sailors on European ships they commenced to tattoo, but the designs were foreign. Kotzebue (14, p. 217) states that the men were not tattooed, but had furrows and stripes lacerated in the skin of the body and arms, which in one of them seemed to be quite fresh and bleeding. Wilkes (31, vol. 4, p. 279) also remarks that scars on the body and limbs appeared general. No information about such a custom was offered me, and the doubt arises as to whether the scars were not due to war wounds and the cuts made in the pehu ceremony and as signs of mourning.
Both Kotzebue (14, p. 217) and Wilkes (31, vol. 4, p. 278) state that many men had lost their front teeth.