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Cook Islands

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.

 

Pitcairn Island

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 Pacific treasure


1964 Postcard of Millie Christian and fellow
Pitcairn Islanders with hand crafts

 

Nuie Island

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 woven.

Amanda studying a coconut leaf basket
at the Nuie morning market

Fiji

 

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 tree.

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 Kata

 

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.

 

Vanuatu

Ni Vanuatu girl in custom dress with woven basket

 

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 for:

Hiking - Noumea

Pacific Island Weaving

Pacific Island Quilting

Braided Eye Splice

Dancing - Vanuatu

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