Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Ingredients 2: I finished the adze

This is an update of my Ingredients post which was about putting together the items and the skills necessary to put together a replica of an ancient Chamorro adze. I'm happy to say that I am finished with the first and made another. I am still looking for ways to improve their construction and quality though. These tools are intended as replicas and for display only of course.
It took some time, research and a lot of trial and error but I am happy with the final products shown here in a couple of pictures. I remain amazed at how the ancient people manufactured these implements without the use of the modern tools. Although I used saws, electric grinders and polishers, sand paper, and anything convenient to cut, shape and bind, I believe I shared with them a very deep personal experience in crafting these tools.
This is Higam hima: Hacha (higam: adze, hima: giant clam, and hacha: one). This was my first attempt hence hacha, the ancient Chamorro word for one. In the Ingredients post about the adze, I referred to them as gachai, the name that was in the Chamorro-English Dictionary (Topping, Ogo, & Dungca). I found out later that gachai is from the Spanish word hacha that means adze or ax. So it is kind of funny that hacha means both adze and one! I will use higam hima from now out of respect and acknowledgment of the ancient language.
I kept the handle long for Hacha just to give it a more interesting character. I wound the binding on the handle where it is at most balanced to hold as a tool. Here are some details to the binding of the head of the tool.
Here's a top and bottom views to show the niyok (coconut) sennit binding and the hima blade.
Can you see the fine grain pattern of the niyoron (Cordia subcordata) wood? Niyoron is not a very hard wood but I wanted to use it for this project to bring awareness to its existence and importance as a native tree to the CNMI. Being so Flame Tree-centric, I bet you can ask many locals about niyoron and you would get a puzzled look not lot of information. You can probably blame this mostly on the lost carving traditions of the ancients. We need to be more aware of our native and endemic trees to appreciate them.
I really enjoyed the act of binding with the coconut sennit. The binding is the hardest step in all, and making rope is even harder. No, I didn't make the sennit but I am researching how it is done. I'll post a little later on how to make cords out of natural fibers. Here you will find a nice story put together by the Pacific Arts Magazine on traditional canoe making in the Solomons which has a small description of how coconut sennit is made.
There are many techniques to binding, such as being able to secure and hide the ends of the sennit. I spent a good deal of time looking for information in the absence of actual instructions in binding these tools. All the hard work pays of in the end though!This is Higam hima: Hugua (or two in the ancient Chamorro language). I salvaged the handle from a niyoron tree that was indiscriminately cut down to make room for one of Saipan's many strip malls. Guess what they have there now? You guessed right if you said pawn shop and video poker arcade!

The handle of Hugua is not as straight as Hacha giving it a much different look and balance. Hugua is a reminder to me that we must remain vigilant in preserving the natural environment against careless sprawl. Here are some head shots.

The limb of the wood that I used had a neat knot that I kept for the final product to retain a bit of that interesting character.
Below is another view that shows the fine grain of the wood on Hugua. For both higam I opted to keep them very simple and not adorn them with carvings or inlays to emphasize look of the raw materials. I kept the sanding of the wood a little on the rough side and finished it with tung oil to preserve the original grain quality. I also used a little wood glue just enough so that is retained in case the sennit unravels because of mishandling or dropping. I assume that natural gums or sticky saps were used in the past for this purpose anyway but did not experiment with those at this time.
I really want to put Hacha yan Hugua in the art show at Joeten Motors in September. I hope I have enough time to put together a few other crafts and illustrations to share. I hope you like the two adzes and thank you for allowing me to share with you my creative journey in making them.

Ti napu.

The Beachcomber


Lewie said...

Enjoy reading your blog. Nice to see you're keeping it going. I've been to old man by the sea, but have never been to the 2nd grotto. I'll be checking that out now.

The Beachcomber said...

Nice of you to drop by, Lewie. I was just thinking of you since I finished the project. I recalled that you wanted to put a higam hima together for yourself. I'll be getting more coconut sennit soon so I can spare you some. I think I saw a branch of mahogany that fell down in Navy Hill that may give us a nice handle. Those are the "prehistoric looking trees" that you told me about at one time (Sweitenia macrophylla). It's an introduced hardwood but we can look for something native too if you like.

Sean said...

Very cool. The next one you make should be for "use" and not just display!

You're a very talented man, BC!

The Beachcomber said...

Thanks for the compliments, Sean! Yes, I hope one day someone will invite me to a traditional Chamorro or Carolinian canoe building. I will have to insist on using some traditional adze replicas at some point during the construction.

Deece said...

Great job! I'm looking forward to seeing these and your other work in the show this month. I don't think I'll have anything to display.