The Manufacturing and Painting Various Kinds of Native Cloth…

Various sorts of cloth are made with this wauti plant, some remarkably fine and even; that which has been beaten with a mallet, carved in different patterns, much resembles muslin at first sight, while that made with a grooved mallet appears, until closely examined, something like dimity. There are other kinds, very thick and tough, which look like wash-leather; but the most common sort is the pati, worn round the waists of the females. To make this, a piece of bark is beaten till it is four yards long, and more than a yard wide, and of an equal texture throughout. Sometimes two or three pieces of bark are necessary to make one piece of cloth. Five of these pieces, when finished, are spread out one upon the other, and fastened together at one end. These five pieces make only one pati. The inside pieces are usually white, or yellow; but the outside piece is always stained, or painted, with vegetable dyes of various colours. No gum is used in the manufacture of the pati, except that contained in the bark, yet the fibres adhere firmly together. Those painted red or yellow, &c. are sometimes rubbed over with a vegetable oil, in which chips of sandal wood, or the seeds of the pandanus odorotissima, have been steeped. This is designed to perfume the cloth, and render it impervious to wet; it is, however, less durable than the common pati. There is another kind of cloth, called tapa moe, (sleeping cloth,) made principally for the chiefs, who use it to wrap themselves in at night, while they sleep. It is generally three or four yards square, very thick, being formed of several layers of common tapa, cemented with gum, and beaten with a grooved mallet till they are closely interwoven. The colour is various, either white, yellow, brown, or black, according to the fancy of its owner. Nearly resembling the tapa moe is the kihei, only it is both thinner and smaller. It is made in the same manner, and is about the size of a large shawl, or counterpane. Sometimes it is brown, but more frequently white or yellow, intermixed with red and black. It is generally worn by the men, thrown loosely over one shoulder, passed under the opposite arm, and tied in front, or on the other shoulder. But the best kind of cloth made with the cultivated plant is the wairiirii, which is made into paus for the females, and maros for the men. The patis are generally four yards long, and about one yard wide, very thick, beautifully painted with brilliant red, yellow, and black colours, and covered over with a fine gum and resinous warnish, which not only preserves the colours, but renders the cloth impervious and durable. The maros are about a foot wide, and three or four yards long. The colours they employ are procured from the leaves, bark, berries, or roots of indigenous plants, and require much skill in their preparation. One or two kinds of earth are also used in mixing the darker colours. Since foreigners have visited them, they have found, upon trial that our colours are better than theirs, and the paint they purchase from ships has superseded in a great degree the native colours, in the painting of all the most valuable kinds of cloth. Their manner of painting is ingenious. They cut the pattern they intend to stamp on their cloth, on the inner side of a narrow piece of bamboo, spread their cloth before them on a board, and having their colours properly mixed, in a calabash by their side, dip the point of the bamboo, which they hold in their right hand, into the paint, strike it against the edge of the calabash, place it on the right or left side of the cloth, and press it down with the fingers of the left hand. The pattern is dipped in the paint after every impression, which is continued till the cloth is marked quite across, when it is moved on the board, and the same repeated till it is finished. The tapa in general lasts but a little while, compared with any kind of wove cloth, yet if kept free from wet, which causes it to rend like paper, some kinds may be worn a considerable time. We are at once convinced, that the people who manufacture it are neither deficient in taste, nor incapable of receiving the improvements of civilized society.” (Ellis)

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 (These are excerpts from a book by William Ellis that has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired.)

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