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their houses for bed and window curtains, &c. Several kinds of strong cloth are finished with a kind of gum or varnish, for the purpose of rendering them imper. vious.
But in the fabrication of glazed cloth, the natives of the Austral Islands, especially those of Rurutu, excel all with whom I am acquainted. Some of the pieces of cloth are thirty or forty yards square, exceedingly thick, and glazed on both sides, resembling on the upper side the English oil-cloth table-covers. It must have required immense labour to prepare it, yet it was abundant when they were first discovered. It is usually red on one side, and black on the other, the latter being highly varnished with a vegetable gum.
In the manufacture of cloth, the females of all ranks were employed; and the queen, and wives of the chiefs of the highest rank, strove to excel in some department—in the elegance of the pattern, or the brilliancy of the colour. They are fond of society, and worked in large parties, in open and temporary houses erected for the purpose. Visiting one of these houses at Eimeo, I saw sixteen or twenty females all employed. The queen sat in the midst, surrounded by several chief women, each with a mallet in her hand, beating the bark that was spread before her. The queen worked as diligently and cheerfully as any present.
The spar or square piece of wood on which the bark is beaten, being hollow on the under-side, every stroke produces a loud sound, and the noise occasioned by sixteen or twenty mallets going at one time, was to me almost deafening; while the queen and her friends seemed not only insensible to any inconvenience from it, but quite amused at its appa2 A
rent effect on us. The sound of the cloth-beating mallet is not disagreeable, where heard at a distance, in some of the retired valleys, indicating the abode of industry and peace; but in the cloth-houses it is hardly possible to endure it.
As the wives or daughters of the chiefs take a pride in manufacturing superior cloth, the queen would often have felt it derogatory to her rank, if any other females in the island could have finished a piece of cloth better than herself. I remember in the island of Huahine, when a native once passed by, wearing a beautiful ahufara, hearing one native woman remark to another— What a finely printed shawl that is! The figures on it are like the work, or the marking, of the queen! This desire, among persons in high stations, to excel in departments of labour, is what we have always admired. This feeling probably led Pomare to bestow so much attention on his hand-writing, and induced the king of the Sandwich Islands to request that we would not teach any of the people till we had fully instructed him in reading and writing.
The ahu, or cloth made with the bark of a tree, although exceedingly perishable when compared with European woven cloth, yet furnished, while it lasted, a light and loose dress, adapted to the climate, and the habits of the people. The duration of a Tahitian dress depended upon the materials with which it was made, the aoa being considered the strongest. Only the highly varnished kinds were proof against wet. The beauty of the various kinds of painted cloth was soon marred, and the texture destroyed, by the rain, as they were kept together simply by the adhesion of the interwoven fibres of the bark. Notwithstanding this, a
tiputa, or a good strong pareu, when preserved from wet, would last several months. Though the native cloth worn by the inhabitants was made by the women, there were some kinds used in the temples, in the service of the idols, which were made by men, and which it was necessary, according to the declarations of the priest, should be beaten during the night.
Although the manufacture of cloth was formerly the principal, it was not the only occupation of the females. Many of the people, especially the raateiras, or secondary chiefs, wore a kind of mat made with the bark of the hibiscus, which they call purau; and the preparation of this, as well as the beds or sleeping mats, occupied much of the time of the females. Great attention was paid to the manufacture of these fine mats. They chose for this purpose, the young shoots of the hibiscus, and having peeled off the bark, and immersed it in water, placed it on a board, the outer rind being scraped off with a smooth shell. The strips of bark were an inch or an inch and a half wide, and about four feet long, and when spread out and dry, looked like so many white ribands. The bark was slit into narrow strips frequently less than the eighth of an inch wide. They were woven by the hand, and without any loom or machinery. They commenced the weaving at one corner, and having extended it to the proper width, which was usually three or four feet, continued the work till the mat was about nine or ten feet long, when the projecting ends of the bark were carefully removed, and a fine fringe worked round the edges.Only half the pieces of bark used in weaving were split into narrow strips throughout their whole length. The others were slit five or six inches at
the ends where they commenced, while the remaining part was rolled up like a riband. These they unrolled, and extended the slits as the weaving advanced, until the whole was complete. When first finished, they are of a beautifully white colour, and are worn only by the men, either bound round the loins as a pareu, or with an aperture in the centre as a tiputa or poncho, and sometimes as a mantle thrown loosely over the shoulder. Their appearance is light and elegant, and they are remarkably durable, though they become yellow from exposure to the weather.
The inhabitants of the Palliser Islands, to the eastward of Tahiti, exceed the Society Islanders in the quality of their mats, which are made of a tough white rush or grass, exceedingly fine and beautiful. They frequently manufacture a sort of girdle, called Tiheri, six inches in width, and sometimes twenty yards in length, but remarkably fine and even, being woven by the hand, but with a degree of regularity rivalling the productions of the loom. They are highly valued by the Tahitians, and are a principal article of commerce between the inhabitants of the different islands.
The sails for their canoes, and beds on which they sleep, are a coarser kind of matting made with the leaves of different varieties of palm, or pandanus, found in the islands. Some kinds grow spontaneously, others are cultivated for their leaves. The matting sails are much lighter than canvass, but far less durable. The size and quality of the sleeping mats is regulated by the skill of the manufacturer, or the rank of the proprietor. Those who excel in making them, use very fine ones themselves. They are all woven by the hand, yet finished with remarkable regularity and neatness.