Craftmanship – household utensils

Among the household utensils of the Hawaiians are pestles called penu, 5 to 8 inches high, made of basalt, smooth and beautifully worked, with a flat rubbing-surface and handles of various shapes. With these bread-fruit, taro, and bananas are ground, on a block having four feet and the upper side slightly hollowed. Primitive oil lamps are formed of conical bowls hollowed out in lava. Lastly, we must mention the preparation of the turmeric powder, to which is ascribed an importance amounting to sanctity as an embellishment for body, clothing, and utensils. In Nukuor the roots are ground by four to six women in special public buildings, they are then allowed to stand in water; on the following morning three young coconuts and three old soma nuts are offered by a priestess with prayer, after which the dye which has settled down in the water is collected, baked into cakes in coconut moulds, wrapped in banana leaves, and hung up in the huts till required for use.

Stone pestles from Hawaii – left hand pestle approx 160mm height. (Cook Collection, Vienna Museum.)

The industrial activity of the Melanesians is in some points behind, in many others in advance of that of the Polynesians. Weapons reach their highest development in the Solomon Islands; the artistically beautiful spears of Fauro have been spoken of with full justice. New Caledonia, parts of New Guinea, and the Admiralty Islands hold in many respects a lower position; while many natives of the southern and central Pacific have no knowledge of pottery. From New Guinea to the Fiji Islands vessels are freely made of clay mixed with sand. This art is absent in New Ireland and New Britain, but reaches its highest point in Fiji. Finsch mentions villages on Hall Sound in New Guinea, where one stock understands pottery and another does not. On the north coast Bilibili does a thriving trade as the centre of this industry in Astrolabe Bay by exporting its manufactures. In the New Hebrides the potter’s art must have died out; in Vate not one complete pot is now to be found, but only potsherds. This retrogression has been set down to the immigrating Polynesians, who have introduced the custom of cooking with hot stones. The highest points to which the earthenware industry has developed are found in New Guinea and the Fiji Islands, which are precisely the extreme points of its distribution. The Melanesians do not know the potter’s wheel, but they burn their vessels cleverly in the open with dry grass and reeds. The Fijian tools are a ring-shaped cushion (in New Guinea the upper part of an old pot), a flat round stone, and four wooden mallets. With this they make vessels which are quite as symmetrically formed as on the wheel. A shining glaze is given by rubbing them with resin while still hot. In New Guinea pots are painted black, white, and red, with figures of birds and fish; the shapes have extraordinary variety. The cooking vessels are simple but elegant urns, sometimes of considerable size.

Earthenware vessels from the Fiji Islands. (Godeffroy Collection, Leipzig.)

Ornamented covers are not uncommon, handles at the side are never found. Among the smaller drinking vessels are found some made of two or three fastened together, with separate spouts, and having also a common spout in the hollow handle [See also coloured plate]; also oval and spindle-shaped flasks with one opening, and boat-shaped ones with two. The decoration consists of impressed dotted or zig-zag lines and ribs, which Finsch, from his observations in New Guinea, states to be trade marks. Pots the size of casks are used there to keep sago. The wonderful wealth of forms is based not so much on recollection of the very similar South American shapes as on immediate imitation of Nature. Here, as among almost all races, the task of making pots is left to the women, and it is only the wives of fishermen and sailors who appear to devote themselves to it. May we see in this a case of migratory industrial tribes resembling the smiths of Africa?

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