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Place: Tahiti & Society Islands
Category: Mats

possibly banana (mei’a) fibre, Tahiti and the Society Islands, l. 112 cm, w. 163 cm, Inv. Oz 423

Humphrey No. 112: ‘A neatly made plantain leaf Mat of a brown colour used on the Floors of their houses by the Natives of the Society Isles.’ (= Oz 423)

Mat Oz 423 has strips 2-3 mm wide made of irregularly arranged light-medium, and dark-brown fibres. Regarding the material, the file card for this mat contains the note ‘musa-leaves.’ According to Henry (1928: 34), this identification of the material could be correct, since especially the brown and black parts of the leaves of the banana mei’a (Musa) were used to create patterns on mats. Mat Oz 423 is severely damaged, with frayed edges and ten small holes.

There is an indication in Banks (1896: 153) that mats were generally used for sleeping on. In particular, the very fine mats made from Hibiscus were also made into garments (presumably tiputa). In addition, Bunzendahl (1935: 132f.) listed the following uses: as a floor covering, for sitting on, as partitions or curtains, sails and sacrificial offerings for deities. As with balls of barkcloth, they were otherwise stored as rolls of mats, giving an indication of the owner’s wealth. Handy (1971) gave a very detailed description of the plaiting techniques used. A specimen very similar to the fringed mat Oz 148 is located in the collection in Berne and is depicted by Kaeppler (1978b: 51, Fig. 92). Other pieces are present in the collections in Oxford, Cambridge, and Wörlitz (cf. Kaeppler 1978a: 131). Gundolf Krüger


Banks, Joseph, Journal of the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks During Captain Cook’s First Voyage in H.M.S. Endeavour in 1768-71 to Terra del Fuego. Otahite, New Zealand, Australia, the Dutch East Indies etc., by Sir Joseph D Hooker, London, 1896.

Bunzendahl, Otto, Tahiti und Europa: Entdeckungsgeschichte der Gesellschaftsinseln, Studien zur Völkerkunde, Leipzig, 1935, vol. 8.

Handy, Willowdean Chatterson, Handcrafts of the Society Islands [1927]. Bernice P Bishop Museum Bulletin, vol. 42, New York, 1971.

Henry, Teuira, Ancient Tahiti, Bernice P Bishop Museum Bulletin, vol. 48, Honolulu, 1928.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, Cook Voyage Artifacts in Leningrad, Berne and Florence Museums, Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978b.

Related artefacts

Mat, Inv. Oz 148
Mat, Inv. Oz 422
Mat, Inv. Oz 424


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