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From J. Stanley Gardiner (1898), "The Natives of Rotuma," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 27:416-420.


The usual mats covering the floor of the house are the farou, which stretch from wall to wall across the house, and are about 2 l/2 feet in breadth. The cocoanut leaves are cut, when they are standing upright on the tree, before it bears any nuts; hence moderately young leaves from young trees are taken. These are passed through the flames or a fire a few times, and left in the sun to dry. The leaflets then are tough, but not brittle. Two full leaves are taken and split down their midribs; the four half-midribs are then fined down, so as only to leave a thin attachment for the leaflets, and placed back to back two and two, the leaflets of the one leaf pointed in one direction, and those of the other in the opposite direction. The leaflets of one are then plaited outwards over and under those of the other. The two sides of the leaflets are bent together along the midribs, so that each leaflet, plaited, has a double thickness. The ends of the several leaflets are fixed by the edges, being plaited along their length; the half-leaves of the two sides are fixed together by the first plait of the leaflets of the other side, being taken alternately over and under their midribs. Precisely in the same way is made a common mat known as the kakoi, but the several leaflets are not doubled, but plaited flat. The tatou resembles the farou, but the first plait joining the half-cocoanut leaves together is omitted, and the midribs are on the outsides of the mat. The two halves are joined by the ends of the leaflets being plaited down together in the centre. This kind of mat was made only for the chiefs and their wives to sit upon and never used by the people.

Thatch for the roof and sides of the house is made of the half-leaves, every alternate leaflet being bent over in the opposite direction to that to which it naturally points, and plaited flat. The ends of the leaflets are left free. This kind is, if made of cocoanut, called puara, and lasts about a year, but if made of the sago palm it is termed oat, and will last up to ten years. For the ridge of the house two whole leaves are taken and laid on top of one another, with the leaflets in opposite directions; these are then worked in and out of one another in the same way. The midrib of the whole leaf is thinned down considerably, so that the two sides are only just joined; this kind is called fatafiti, and is more commonly made of cocoanut leaves and renewed yearly. All kinds of thatch are made green and allowed to dry on the houses.

Of the baskets, the ajarava is made of the half of a green cocoanut leaf. A piece of puara is really made, and then the midrib bent round in a circle and the ends of the leaflets plaited along the bottom and up the open end, fixing the whole together. This kind is ordinarily made in the bush for carrying the food from the planting ground to the kitchen and then thrown in the oven. The afmamaas really is made, as it were, of one half of the tatou, in fact of two half cocoanut leaves plaited together, with the leaflets doubled and the midribs bent round and fixed by the free ends of the cocoanut leaflets plaited along the bottom and up the open side, as in the last. This basket is used for taking out fishing on the reef, as it sits flat on the waist. A girdle is sometimes plaited of cocoanut leaflets to make a belt to hold it, but a piece of sinnet is more often used. The tauga is stated to be of Gilbert Island origin; it has round the edge the midribs of four half cocoanut leaves. The leaflets are doubled on themselves, and their outer, thinner part torn off, so as to make them still narrower. These are used mainly for bringing the cooked food from the kitchen to the dwelling-house, and to preserve the residue after the meal.

From the cocoanut also is made a broom, the touferi, of the midribs of the leaflets tied together, while torches are made of the sheath of the flower-bearing shoot of the cocoanut, the sulu. This, if split up burns well, and will last for fifteen minutes or more in the wind.

The leaves of the saaga, a kind of pandanus, with rather narrow, light-coloured green leaves, very prickly edges, a central row of thorns along the middle of the under-surface, and branching freely with many roots, are used for making the finer kinds of mats. Of these the epa has about four strands to the inch, and is of a light colour. For it the old leaves are taken, and their thorns removed; they are then put into the sun to dry, and rolled up on the hands, when they are known as takoieep. They are next released, falling like curls, and hung up thus for two weeks in the sun to dry, after which they are coiled up tight and fixed thus; they are now termed aieoju. When required, they are simply split up with the hands to the required breadths. Fig. 4 shows how a mat is begun at one corner; it is finished off simply by turning the ends back under the last plait and cutting them off short. Where required, fresh strands are introduced, their ends being left slightly projecting on the under-surface of the mat. These mats are of any size up to 4 yards long by 3 broad, and are ordinarily used for sitting upon, while the bed is made on the top of a pile of them. A coarse kind of the same, the aap, about 6 feet long by 3 broad, used to be made especially for sleeping on.

The young leaves of the saaga are used to make a finer mat, the sala, with about fourteen strands to the inch. The raw material is worked into the mat in precisely the same way as the last. The young leaves are taken and passed through the flames, after which the central row of prickles on the under-surface is removed, and the whole coiled up for one night; then the under-surface of the leaf is torn off and thrown away. The whole is next tied up in a bundle and thrown into salt water for one night; then the leaves are separated and dried in the sun, but are tied up and put in fresh water for the following night. The loose tissue, adhering under the upper surface, is scraped off by a piece of shell, if requisite. For the purpose a piece of clam (Tridacna) or other shell is taken, 3 inches by 2, and flattened above and below. The sides are squared, and one edge bevelled (see Sec. XIII). After washing, the leaves are again coiled up on the hand, and hung up on sticks in the sand for about a fortnight to dry and bleach. The outside rows of prickles are then taken off, and the curls are left for one more day, after which they are rolled up tight like wheels. One leaf gives ten to twelve strands after being split up, for which fish bones are very generally used. Commonly the edges used to be decorated with feathers, and fringes of various kinds are left. These mats are used for burying the dead in, marriages, dresses for feasts, sleeping mats, etc.; their colour is very white, to preserve which they are constantly placed in the sun. They vary in size, a big one being 12 feet by 9. Very small ones also used to be made for carrying babies in.

For sinnet, or uun, there is a particular kind of cocoanut grown with very long nuts. When these are still green, but nearly ripe, they are soaked in the salt water for about three days, when they become quite soft; the fibre is then pulled out of the husk and beaten with a stick to separate it. It is next combed out with the hands and put out in the sun to dry, tied up in bundles. The separate fibres are 12-16 inches long. A few fibres are taken and rolled up together into a strand on the thigh with the palm of the hand. Three strands are plaited together and worked so that their ends occur at about equal intervals along the uun; they are fixed simply by pushing their ends between the other two strands. The form produced is flat and used for all ordinary purposes, tying the beams of the houses, fish lines and nets. Other kinds with two to ten strands are known, but stated by the natives themselves to have all been introduced from the Gilbert islands and elsewhere.

A cord, the alol, is made of the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, soaked in water and beaten out. The strands are always joined on to one another in one continuous whole, being, simply twisted and rubbed together on the thigh. Usually three strands are taken and thus merely rolled up. Alol is very white and strong, and, as it does not in any way spoil in salt water, the best fishing lines and nets are made of it.

Fans are made of the leaflets of the cocoanut doubled, with their handles formed by the midribs of the same leaflets. A special kind from the fan palm was made for chiefs and not allowed to be used by others.

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