Friday, 6 July 2012

'Elegant in the Highest Degree'

George Forster notes in 'A Voyage Round the World' in his entries for October 1773 that on Tonga 'these (coconut) fibres were likewise employed in making a great variety of baskets, wrought with regular compartments of two colours, brown and black, or sometimes all brown, and ornamented with rows of flat beads, which were made by cutting bits of shell into that shape.  The taste and the workmanship of these baskets was elegant in the highest degree, and varied into different forms and patterns.' 

1886.1.1330 Kaki mosi kaka, Tonga

This basket, a kaki mosi kaka, is made from dyed and undyed fibres from the coconut husk, leaf sheaths or roots (kaka).  Single strands of the fibre are twined in double pairs to create a very flexible flat basket, said to have been used by chiefly ladies to carry pieces of barkcloth impregnated with scented coconut oil.  The manufacture of baskets of this type ceased in the middle of the 19th century.

1886.1.1130 Detail

The design on the basket, of black and brown triangles, is known as manulua, two birds flying together.  It is a genealogical metaphor for a high-ranking person whose parentage is equally high on both sides.

The basket is made from a single layer of fibre, and is still very flexible,  However some damage has occurred around the handles.  Careful handling and storage should however mean that no interventive conservation treatment is required, apart from surface cleaning.

1886.1.1330 detail of fibre and beads (top-shell, bottom, coconut)