The Cook Islands are renowned for their wonderful
pandanas weaving. The 15' pandanas tree has numerous stems each with a
cluster of 6' long thin green pandanus leaves. The leaves are cut and
placed in the sun to dry then boiled to bleach them white and make the
manageable. During the boiling process it is possible to dye the leaves
black by adding alternation branches of the dark green/purple coppermine
leaf. Once cooked the pandanus leaf is scraped both sides to make it straight
and pliable. Stored in tight coils they will keep for six months. Various
sizes of mats and designs were woven for different events such as weddings,
births and ceremonial occasions and with larger shapes and weaves used
in the construction of houses, sails for canoes, and flooring for the home.
When a village chief dies each village family presents a mat, which gets
buried with the body.
Amanda at the market admiring the
Penrhyn Island weaving and applique cushion covers
Penrhyn Island in the Northern Cooks produces
the most famous weaving of all the Cook Islands. Using the young coconut
leaf they follow the same process as for pandanus though the end product
is a smaller, finer, and whiter leaf. Called rito weaving the traditional
items woven are Sunday church fans, small baskets and hats, the hats being
a copy of the ones the sailors wore. These articles generally incorporate
the oyster pearl shell first sought after by the Europeans for button making
and more recently cultivated for the black pearl unique to Tahiti and the
Cooks. Last year I was given a small basket of an intricate design with
a small gold pearl shell woven into the lid.
While visiting Pitcairn Island a few years
previous I had purchased a few of their baskets, a skill which has been
handed down through the generations from the Mutiny on the Bounty descendants.
Dying the pandanas leaf with clothes dye they then weave a multi color
basket that even spells the name Pitcairn Island. The larger baskets are
double lined making them more durable. Anyone interested in a small basket
can send $20 US to Betty Christian, Pitcairn Island, via New Zealand, who
will gladly make and post one to you. You just need a little patience
as they only receive three ships a year, but it's great to own a South
1964 Postcard of Millie Christian and fellow
Pitcairn Islanders with hand crafts
Although we had a brief stop at Nuie Island
I was impressed at the very visible productivity of the local women. A
small store in the Town Square sold the local handicrafts with the main
item being beautiful baskets of pandanas. Their technique was different
to other Islands and has evolved its own style. Coiling a fiber in a circle
to form the basket this is then wrapped and woven to create a very durable
and sturdy basket. Often a design is woven in black. A popular tourist
item was a tall square basket with a hole in bottom of one side. When
John asked me what this basket was for I quickly replied that it is for
the Kiwi boxed wine that has a tap on the bottom, and hence the hole.
Nuien Basket Weaving
On my visit to the market the women used coconut
frond baskets in addition to their plastic tubs to display their produce.
These baskets were not made in a hurry, as the weave was tight and the
basket very neat and symmetrical. The frond is halved down the center
of the spine. The halved spine is wrapped around itself twice forming the
rim. The leaves are then interwoven down their length to create the side
and base. The remaining ends are platted in a long strip thus forming
its oblong shape. The ladies delighted in explaining to me how they were
Amanda studying a coconut leaf basket
at the Nuie morning market
Fiji is our stop for September and I was delighted
to be returning to the village of Daku on the Island of Kadavu. It was
here that I met my friend Kata and her family last year. Eager to learn
more about the local crafts, Kata offered to teach me. Unfortunately there
was a death of an important elder in the village and as a sign of respect
and mourning no manual labor could be undertaken for three weeks.
Well this year no one had died and the village
was happy and industrious. On Friday night I booked my lesson with Kata,
Sally on our crew also expressed interest as she weaves American Indian
grass baskets. So Saturday afternoon after our hike to the school the
children served us refreshing lemonade while Kata, Sally, and I plonked
ourselves down on 6'x8' pandanas mats in the shade of their village square
The pandanas leaves had been dried and prepared
ready for weaving. Kata was not too sure how quickly we would learn this
art and went racing ahead. Her flurry of hands was hard to follow but
after I asked a lot of questions and attempted an OK start she soon realized
that I was taking this lesson seriously. With a far amount of help I started
to get it under control. Sally was a little slower but was soon given
a helping hand by Kata's twin daughters Mariah and Senimeli.
Before long we were well the swing of things,
stripping the leaf into three with either a broken shell of better still
a piece of tin can, it was then a matter of inter weaving the strips over
one then under one and then reversing the process. Simpler still you fold
back each alternating strip, place down your working strip at right angles,
unfold the folded strip and proceed to bend back the next alternative strip
ready to start again.
Weaving is social event, a time for the women
to get together. We became the center of attention and soon the children
and young girls were gathered around to watch the progress. The process
of creating my mat quickly mesmerized me and thank goodness the aim of
my efforts was just a place mat. Kata has streaked ahead being able to
weave while refereeing both the rugby and volleyball game occurring simultaneously,
holding a conversation with a friend, and keeping a close eye on my efforts.
Me on the other hand could only look up when the cry came of a stray ball
heading in my direction.
Cutting pandanad. Young Fijian girls
preparing pandanas leaves
Village boys making coconut milk
At the next door neighbors women were busy
grating coconuts. The grated nut is then rolled up in a sugar sack with
sweet perfumed leaves. A quick shout to the boys playing rugby and they
abandon the game to come rushing over with two steel poles. The sack is
tied and looped trough the poles and everyone has a piece of the action
as it is twisted in one direction then another to extract the juice, while
one boy carefully holds the pot beneath. The pot is then boiled over a
wood fire to create coconut oil which is used a as a body lotion, hair
conditioner, and perfume.
Amanda learns Fijian weaving from
After four hours my mat neared completion
and with a few finishing touches I was able to take it home. Kata's mat
was given to me as a present and it is now the pride of my dinner table.
Mine is a little wonky but in the tradition of Indian basket weaving you
should always keep the first item you make. I think it will make a good
hot plate for cookware. In exchange for her help and time I presented
Kata with a lace tablecloth.
Ni Vanuatu girl in custom dress with
Walking into the township of Luganville on
our arrival in Vanuatu I was captivated by the use of color. Bright tropical
"Mother Hubbard" dresses were worn by the ladies and they all
carried beautifully woven handbags. These baskets from the neighboring
Island of Pentecost are made of pandanas interwoven with bright colors,
they vary form small to large in size and an average size is about $12.
I couldn't resist and purchased a finely woven natural bag with bright
pink tassels from the Women's Handicraft Center.
Click on your interest
Hiking - Noumea
Pacific Island Weaving
Pacific Island Quilting
Braided Eye Splice
Dancing - Vanuatu