Of the Manufactures, Boats, and Navigations of Otaheite.
If necessity is the mother of invention, it cannot be supposed to have been much exerted where the liberality of Nature has rendered the diligence of Art almost superfluous; yet there are many instances both of ingenuity and labour among these people, which, considering the want of metal for tools, do honour to both.
Their principal manufacture is their cloth, in the making and dyeing of which I think there are some particulars which may instruct even the artificers of Great Britain, and for that reason my description will be more minute.
Their cloth is of three kinds; and it is made of the bark of three different trees, the Chinese paper mulberry, the bread-fruit tree, and the tree which resembles the wild fig-tree of the West Indies.
The finest and whitest is made of the paper mulberry, Aouta; this is worn chiefly by the principal people, and when it is dyed red takes a better colour. A second sort, inferior in whiteness and softness, is made of the bread-fruit tree, Ooroo, and worn chiefly by the interior people; and a third of the tree that resembles the fig, which is coarse and harsh, and of the colour of the darkest brown paper: This, though it is less pleasing both to the eye and to the touch, is the most valuable, because it resists water, which the other two sorts will not. Of this, which is the most rare as well as the most useful, the greater part is perfumed, and worn by the chiefs as a morning dress.
All these trees are propagated with great care, particularly the mulberry, which covers the largest part of the cultivated land, and is not fit for use after two or three years growth, when it is about six or eight feet high, and somewhat thicker than a man’s thumb; its excellence is to be thin, straight, tall, and without branches: The lower leaves, therefore, are carefully plucked off, with their germs, as often as there is any appearance of their producing a branch.
But though the cloth made of these three trees is different, it is all manufactured in the same manner; I shall, therefore, describe the process only in the fine sort, that is made of the mulberry. When the trees are of a proper size, they are drawn up, and stripped of their branches, after which the roots and tops are cut off; the bark of these rods being then slit up longitudinally is easily drawn off, and, when a proper quantity has been procured, it is carried down to some running water, in which it is deposited to soak, and secured from floating away by heavy stones: When it is supposed to be sufficiently softened, the women servants go down to the brook, and stripping themselves, sit down in the water, to separate the inner bark from the green bark on the outside; to do this they place the under side upon a flat smooth board, and with the shell which our dealers call Tyger’s