Ngaru’a or Neck Pillow

Ngaru’a or Neck Pillow

Ngaru’a

or Neck Pillow

Antiguamente los isleños no buscaban mayores comodidades en sus Hare Paenga (casas bote), en los Hare Mauku (habitaciones de piedra techada con pasto) o en la caverna que eligieron para vivir; para ellos estos espacios eran solamente lugares donde protegerse de la lluvia, abrigarse y dormir en la noche clausurándolos con una portezuela de totora que llamaban Papare. El interior era oscuro y se vivía en estrecha promiscuidad. No había ninguna clase de muebles, como asientos y mesas. Lo principal era la cama. Según las crónicas de Sebastián Englert y los visitantes europeos, todo el menaje consistía en esteras de totora llamados Moenga que servían de alfombras colocadas sobre una mullida capa de pasto o Heriki. Unas piedras lisas, ovaladas o redondeadas, servían de apoya nucas. Antiguamente eran llamadas Turua, término tahitiano, pero hoy en día los rapanui les dicen Ngaru’a. También tenían unas mantas hechas de mahute (paper mulberry) para las noches más heladas.
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Household goods were also very elemental. They only kept a few domestic objects, such as gourds (Ipu) for water, reed baskets called Kete for food, fishing implements and wooden images hanging from the roof. As Routledge, who visited on the Island in 1914-1915, recorded, many of the surviving elders related that they had been born and raised in these houses or caves.

The Ngaru’a were usually basalt shingle rocks from the floor of the sea which were called Poro. They are rather dark, smooth and very hard. Their sizes ranged to a maximum length of 13.5 cm (5.5 inches), a width up to 18 cm (7 in.) and a thickness between 3.7 and 10 cm (1.5 and 4 in.). They could weigh between 0.8 and 5.3 kilograms (1 lb, 12 oz. And 11 lb, 11 oz). They usually had carvings on both sides and edges which might represent the bird-man, the Ao or staff of power and fertility symbols (Komari) or other zoomorphic petroglyphs. There have been no ethnographic explanations for the carvings, but they are a material expression of a rich symbolism and the importance of dreams in the Polynesian world. The Ngaru’a are one of the household artifacts associated with the highest social rank.

This type of rock was typically used for the terraces of the Ahu (platforms) and were classified as Poro Nui (large) and Poro Iti (small), but those used as Ngaru’a were intermediate. According to the archaeologist Mulloy, they were found in many places around the Island, but especially in the houses at Orongo, inside the bases of the Hare paenga and at important ceremonial centers, such as Vinapu. This type of rock pillow for the neck have been used in other parts of Polynesia, as well. Some have been found in Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii, Tahiti, the Marquesas and the Society Islands, made of rock or made of wood, and sometimes made of thick trunks of bamboo. These date from the late 18th Century and the early 19th Century.
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Neck pillows actually originated in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, and spread from there to the east, where they became popular in India and China and, later, in Japan. The oldest examples in the Orient have been found in archaeological excavations in Han dynasty tombs. The earliest materials were wood and stone, but later Chinese artists created marvels in bamboo, ceramics, Indian reed, jade, glass, silk and porcelain. They were crafted in forms of tigers, panthers and bears, since it was thought that these animals were efficient in protecting people from evil spirits. Others were decorated with floral symbols, where the peony represented good health and the lotus flower indicated nobility.

According to Jaime Errázurriz-Z. in his book “Cuenca del Pacífico: 4,000 Años de Contactos Culturales” (“The Pacific Basin: 4,000 Years of Cultural Contact”), this ancient tradition appeared in the Americas, specifically in what is now Ecuador, and was found only within the cultures of the coast of Central South America: Guangala, Bahía and Jama-Coaque. He mentions as an example a neck pillow from the Jama-Coaque which is similar to a design from the Chinese Song Period (960 -1279), in which both show a reclining woman holding a small plaque. Para Emilio Estrada, who is considered the discoverer of the Valdivia culture, the only reasonable explanation for the presence of neck pillows in Ecuador is that Asians crossed the Pacific Ocean. If that is so, it is also probable that they reached more than a few of the islands of Polynesia on the way.

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