Fine threads of tradition woven to life

Taumuli Salu keeps alive the Samoan tradition of fine-mat weaving in her village of Palauli [Photo: Dan Ahwa]

Taumuli Salu's fingers manipulate the fine strips of pandamus leaf, weaving them into a traditional Samoan fine mat with an expertise born of decades of experience.

So fine are the fibres going into this mat, and so painstaking is her weaving, that she has been working on it for two months and it is only three-quarters finished.

That's because such mats - known as ie toga or Tongan mats - which are finely woven and decorated with a fringe of dyed chicken feathers and sometimes shells, play a hugely important role in Samoan culture, particularly in situations of customary gift-giving.

The ie toga are used as mats in the usual way, but they also represent wealth and prestige.

At funerals, for instance, fine mats are gifted to the family of the person who died. At weddings, fine mats are gifted to the groom's family for distribution to family members.

In Apia last year I had the opportunity to accept a title as matai (or chief) on my father's side of the family and, again, fine mats played an important role.


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