Similarities and coincidences in labour and implements of labour

Craftmanship – cloth

Bark-cloth is prepared in all the Melanesian groups. Besides the paper mulberry, which is cultivated, the following trees supply the bast: FicusprolixaF. tinctoria, and Artocarpus incisus. The loom is unknown; the woven stuffs from New Guinea found in our collections seem to be a Malay importation. In New Guinea they merely beat soft the bast stripped off the india-rubber tree; but Fiji produces pieces 150 yards long, of stuff coloured in patterns, by means of the blocks shown at `The more easterly islands’. It is hard to say how far to the westward the Polynesian and Fijian method of preparing tapa extends, since it is an article of trade. In New Britain the tapa is thicker, and obviously more coarsely manufactured; nor is it printed, but painted, so that, as in New Guinea, the patterns are larger and more continuous throughout the stuff, from being drawn and not impressed. The use of a rule, too, permits the designing of wonderfully regular squares.

Craftmanship – plaiting

Wickerwork (basket, pouches, and fly-whisk), from Tongatabu. (Cook Collection, Vienna Ethnographic Museum.)
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The art of plaiting is diligently practised. For the coarser mats coco-nut fibre is employed; for the finer, pandanus leaves and rushes. An intelligent Fijian can always tell you from which island a mat came. The coarser kinds are used as floorcloths and hangings to the huts; the finer as sails, or sleeping-mats, or for children. Floor-mats are 5 to 8 yards in length, sail-mats 100 and more. Sleeping-mats are of two kinds – a thicker to lie on, and a thinner for covering; one of the most valued sorts has a pleat running through the middle of each strip of plaiting. Borders are worked on with designs in darker bands; white feathers and scraps of European stuffs are woven in. One of the prettiest productions of the art is the women’s liku, a girdle woven from strips of the bast of the wau-tree (a kind of hibiscus), with the fibres of a root that grows wild, and blades of grass. Soft mats are made by plaiting the stalks of a fibrous plant into one, and removing the woody portions by bending and beating. Bags and baskets are admirably woven; fans, too, are made either of palm leaves strengthened at the edge and vandyked, or woven from bast. But superior to all these are the string and the cables – the best from coco-fibre, the inferior kinds from the bast of the wau-tree. In the Fiji Islands these are tastefully made up into balls, ovals, spindles, etc. Comparison with New Caledonia shows how high East Melanesia stands in this art. One has only to look at a New Caledonia fan beside one from Fiji. But in New Guinea, again, very elegant woven articles of all kinds are produced.

Craftmanship – Wood-carving

Carved spatulas for betel-lime from Dorey in New Guinea – largest height approx. 210mm(Christy Collection.)

Wood-carving again, of which we have seen specimens in the weapons, stands highest in East Melanesia, though the west can also [as seen in the image above] show remarkable work. Individual districts are poor in this respect: in the Banks Islands, for instance, hardly any carved human figures are to be seen. All the larger groups have their own subjects. The most wonderful fancy is shown in the appendages to houses and boats. In these simple artists there is a strong tendency to pass from imitation of Nature to conventionalised forms, so that this imitation is never very successful, especially where, as in Fiji and the New Hebrides, the human form is so rarely copied. One may see this in the representations of the human face, in which the nose appears as a line, falling downwards and forwards from the projecting forehead, with strongly distended nostrils, and ending in the mouth, a cross line sharply cut back. In some New Guinea masks this evokes a reminiscence of Ganesa and his proboscis. In Fiji this fancy is fused with the far better proportioned geometrical designs of Tonga. In San Christoval figures are better drawn than anywhere else, and in Isabel we find really artistic engraved work. We may notice also one characteristic production of Melanesian art: the ever-recurring grotesque heads of the New Caledonians. The carved head with large nose and a kind of bishop’s mitre on the top, [as shown on the right,] is a type which we find in a larger form by itself, as an idol. This religious sculpture shows a close affinity with idols from other parts of the South Seas, in connection with which we may recall the resemblance of the spear-heads to the knobstick of the Hervey Islanders as shown in the plate of “Polynesian Clubs.”

To the same branch of art we may refer the carved wooden masks. These are often trimmed round the lips with red beans, and fitted with wigs of real hair; and are carried at dances, dressed in feather clothing. All these carvings are executed with firm, strong cuts in palm wood. Lines in relief are coloured black, the general level red, and depressed parts are white. From New Ireland come examples of masks made by sawing off the face of a skull, just as in Peru; and with these are connected the ruddle-painted skulls of New Britain. The flexible tortoiseshell was formerly the favourite material in south-eastern New Guinea and in the Torres Islandsfor masks with wild arabesques and appendages like trunks and combs. Still earlier, indeed, it was much more worked, being used even for hats; now they have got to use tin masks in New Guinea, where formerly, in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Landparticularly, a vigorous style in masks used to prevail, corresponding with that of the carved woodwork generally.

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?

Labour, Dwellings and Food in Oceania

Similarities and coincidences in labour and implements of labour – Hunting and fishing – Agriculture and its implements – Food and stimulants, betel, kava, tobacco – Architecture and plan of villages.

Similarities and coincidences in labour and implements of labour

Craftmanship – carving

As good wood-carvers the Micronesians surpass many of their kindred in the East Pacific Islands. They know the trick of patiently adding to their dishes coat after coat of resinous lacquer till a durable skin is formed. Their wooden ware consists .of plates, bowls, and great dishes, all painted a beautiful red, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl; flat plates and deep bowls are found in the very poorest abodes. The people of Fakaafo carved cylindrical boxes out of single pieces of wood, with covers or even close-fitting lids, in which they keep their fishing-tackle. In Pelew every native is expert in the handling of his little axe; but house and boat-building is carried out by masters in the craft. This multifarious dexterity of the Micronesians is the point where the introduction of European goods has caused the greatest falling off.

Wooden dish from Hawaii. (British Museum.)

But the productions of Polynesia also testify to great handiness, and expert craftsmen hold a good position. In Tonga and Samoa carpenters are regarded as artists, and form a guild with sacerdotal rank. The perfection of the methods of labour led to the division of labour. Thus in Hawaii there were builders and roofers, boat-builders and carvers, whose productions were articles of trade. Armourers and net-makers sometimes also formed separate trades. Cook notices the chiefs’ ava-cups as the most remarkable, pieces of carved work in “Owhyhee”; they are perfectly round, 8 to 12 inches in diameter, and beautifully polished, and have little human figures in various attitudes as supporters. Quite a peculiar style of execution appears in a Hermes-shaped idol from Hawaii, now in the Berlin Museum, made almost in life-size from the wood of the bread-fruit tree, with pegs of hard wood let in forming dots. It is quite a mistake to assert that the Polynesians have no pottery. The Easter Islanders are skilful at it. On Namoka, Cook found earthenware pots, which seemed to have been long in use, and the Tonga group produces porous vessels. In Micronesia, too, pottery has been known from early times.

Craftmanship – cloth and mat making

Of the mode in which the bark-cloth, known as tapa or gnatu, is prepared Mariner gives the following account: A circular cut is made with a shell in the bark above the root of the tree; the tree is broken off, and in a few days, when the stem is half-dry, the bark and bast are separated from it. The bastis then cleaned and macerated in water, after which it is beaten with the ribbed club on a wooden block. This beating enlivens a village in Tonga as threshing does in Europe. In half an hour the piece will have changed in shape from a strip almost to a square. The edges are snipped with shells, and a large number of the pieces are drawn separately over a semi-cylindrical wooden stamp, on which the pattern, worked in coco-fibre, is stretched and smeared with a fluid at once adhesive and colouring. On each a second and third layer is placed; and the piece, three layers thick, is coloured more strongly in the parts which are thrown into relief by the inequalities of the bed. Others are annexed to it both at the side and the end, until pieces a yard wide, and 20 to 25 yards long, are produced.

Mats from Tongatabu. (Vienna Ethnographical Museum.)

For printing their kapa (as they call it) the Hawaiians used sticks broadened at the end, and carved with figures in relief, and drew lines on the stuff with a wooden comb. Some of the most remarkable patterns of Polynesian tapafrom that portion of Cook’s collection which is now at Vienna, are represented on our coloured plate. The tints are black, white, and reddish brown; the patterns, with the exception of a dotted one which seldom occurs, are rectilinear. European influence has unluckily not improved them. Mats from the Gilberts and Marshalls show a special pattern for each island,1displaying a relatively good standard of taste. The women of Micronesia, in Ruk, Mortlock, and Nukuor, weave a fabric from the fibres of a Musa and a Hibiscus. The looms, or rather frames, are like those of the Malays. The Gilbert and Marshall Islanders are clever at weaving mats; the inhabitants of Ponapé sew their mats; the women of Ponapé understand basket-weaving, while the ropes which their husbands make from coco-fibre are famous. From the Gilbert Islands come charming covered baskets and fans of different sorts. The long tough fibres of the Phormium tenax, which grows from 6 to 10 feet high, stimulated the Maoris to the weaving of mats, affording a substitute for tapa of many and various descriptions. Bast mats with borders of feathers woven in are made in Samoa. Cook brought some of the prettiest plaited work from the Tonga Islands: pouches, wooden vessels covered with plaited work and the like; large mats are designed with stripes of dark-coloured bast and adorned with trimmings woven on. A characteristic Tongan object is the fly whisk, which is at the same time one of the king’s insignia. The fans of plaited bast also show pretty shapes; they belong to the toilet of Polynesians of all ages. A great variety of straw plaiting is produced at present in Hawaii. Interesting also are the netting needles, one of which exists in the Cook collection at Vienna, with a net of human hair still wound round it. A strong wooden needle, some 16 inches long, with an eye, was used for the same purpose.

Polynesian fan and fly-whisks, insignia of chiefs, probably from Tongatabu. (Cook Collection.)
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Craftmanship – ornaments

For ornaments, mother-of-pearl was the favourite material to work; it makes a particularly vivid impression when it is employed in glittering natural beads, or lies in broad plates on the breast. Tortoiseshell is split into discs of extraordinary thinness, while valuable chains and girdles are composed of the coloured opercula of certain shells. The laborious putting together of them from numerous small pieces is a particularly favourite task. Feather-weaving reaches its highest pitch in Hawaii. One might say that in the case of the hideous feathered idols of the Sandwich Islands the work is much too fine in comparison with their ugliness. The red feathered head shown in the coloured plate of Polynesian ornaments, with its wide skate’s mouth full of teeth and goggle eyes, is made of plaited reeds and string, into which thousands of little red and yellow feathers are so cleverly worked in tufts that they quite conceal the substratum. The red feathers on the Greek-shaped helmets are from Depranis coccinea, the yellow from Moho fasciculatus.

1 [So to this day many Alpine valleys have their own pattern for home-spun and home-woven cloth, recognised sometimes even in quite remote districts.]