Men's Belts: Tatua whara.
These are plaited into a flat band, with white and dyed wefts of about ⅛ in. in width. They usually have coloured designs worked in them. On the east coast of the North Island they are also called tatua pupara, whilst on the west coast they are called tatua kotara.
The plaiting is commenced in the same manner as the beginning of the best floor-mats of the porera class (4). The white and black wefts are usually in sets of six or more, united by an undivided portion of the butt end of the leaf. The undivided portions help to lock the wefts when the plaiting is commenced. It is usual to have all the black wefts running the one way, and the white the other. The beginning-edge is carried on for a length of from 36 in. to 38 in. In Plate 34, fig. 1, it will be seen that all the sinistral wefts are black and the dextral white. The undivided butt ends show up well, with the black ends forming the upper layer, and the white the lower. In the belt figured the black ends are much longer than the white. The plaiting is carried on in the usual way with a twilled stroke. In the belt in Plate 34, fig. 2, there are, from the bottom or beginning, five horizontal rows of alternate white and black.
The first row is composed of white twilled twos, then follow black twilled threes, white twilled twos, black twilled fours, and again white twilled twos. In the row of black twilled threes, as the name implies, each black weft crosses over three whites, and in the twilled fours each crosses over four. Thus variety is added to the design by making the black bands wider than the white. These horizontal bands are termed pae by the Whanganui people. Further variety is now introduced by “changing the stroke” in each succeeding weft of the same colour. Thus in the succeeding set of black wefts each alternate black crosses one weft whilst the others cross two, and check and twill strokes are combined in the same row to change the pattern. The next set of white wefts continues the alternate twill and check, or two and one, and before the bounding even line of white twilled twos is reached the intervening spaces are filled up with black threes and ones. The result is a regular series of small white figures set in a black background, bounded above and below by white bands. This design is called kowhiti on the east coast of the North Island, and mawhiti in the west. Amongst the Ngati-Porou the term kowhiti is applied to the plait in which check and twill strokes alternate as it does in the kowhiti design above. The technique is carried on to form three double rows of the kowhiti motive, separated by black bands of twilled fours. As a convenient width has now been reached, the upper portion of the plaiting is finished off in horizontal bands of alternate black and white.
The side-edges are formed by turning the wefts back into the body of the plaiting without reversing the surface as in floor-mats. Thus it will be noticed that on the left of Plate 34, fig. 1, after the black sinistral wefts which go to the left have passed the left marginal dextral weft going to the right, the black sinistrals have no further white dextrals to interlace with. But from below up, as each black sinistral comes to the left side-edge of the plaiting, it is turned back at right angles into the body and functions as a dextral weft. Hence both sinistrals and dextrals to the left of the left marginal white weft are black, and the plaiting of the triangular portion bounded by the left border, the upper border, and the left marginal white weft is completely black. For the same reason the triangular portion to the right of the right marginal black weft is completely white. These triangles of one colour can occur only when all the wefts of one colour go in the same direction at the beginning-edge. The width of the completed plaiting is about 6 in., and the result is a strip of floor-matting 38 in. by 6 in.
On the upper border the wefts are left long without fixing or cutting. The upper and lower borders are folded back so as to conceal the ends of the wefts. It is usual to fold down the four corners a little more than the rest of the border. The band is now folded or doubled on itself, and the ends of the wefts kept tucked away out of sight between the two layers. This reduces the width of the belt to about 2½ in. The free edges are drawn together with a strand of prepared flax-fibre. In these days they are usually sewn together with needle and thread.
The cords for tying are generally attached by passing a length of prepared fibre of the requisite thickness through holes piercing both thicknesses of the band at either end. The fibre is drawn through to the middle of its length, the two halves brought together, divided into three equal portions, plaited into a cord with a three-ply plait, and finished off at the end with an overhand knot. In length the cords are 18 in. and upwards.
The belt is worn with the sewn edge uppermost. At times the edges are not sewn together, and the belt is then used as a pocket for containing various articles. Best quotes the tradition of Taukata having brought the kao, or cooked and dried kumara, to New Zealand in such a belt. The Aotea tradition states that Rongorongo, the wife of Turi, brought the seed of the kumara in her belt from Hawaiki. From this historical incident arises the saying applied to the kumara in the Taranaki district, Te tatua o Rongorongo (The belt of Rongorongo). The width of the belt may be more than 2½ in., some saying that it was made much wider so as to protect the abdomen from hostile thrusts on the battlefield. The uncut ends of the wefts tucked between the folds of the belt further thicken it and give additional protection.
Best (3) mentions that similar belts about 4 in, wide were used by women, and that in them the whakakokikoki, or zigzag design, was a favourite one. I have described the kowhiti design above in detail, as it also seems a favourite one in old belts. Various other designs were used. Other variations were secured by using alternate dextrals and sinistrals of one colour. The pingao (Scirpus frondosus) was used in coloured designs because of its yellow colour. Thus the colours used were, as in floor-mats and baskets, white, black, and yellow. In modern times European dyes are freely used.