FIJI MAT WEAVERS KNOW IT’S ALL IN THE LEAVES

Feature

Fiji Times

SUVA, Fiji (July 24) - Fijian mats may vary in design and size but the texture of the pandanus leaves used to weave them speaks volume on the quality of a mat.

That is one reason Atelaite Delai and Laisa Koto choose pandanus leaves from the Lomaiviti group.

[PIR editor’s note: The Lomaiviti Group, among Fiji’s 14 provinces, is located east of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island. The islands were first seen by Europeans in May 1789 by Captain William Bligh, who was on his epic voyage in a lifeboat to Timor having been cast adrift by his crew in the Mutiny on the Bounty.]

The two women know the kind of pandanus leaves that would make good mats. They have been selling pandanus leaves, better known to locals as "voivoi," in the Suva market for about 10 years. They believe voivoi from Nairai and Koro are the most sought after ones.

"There is something about the texture of ‘voivoi’ from these two islands that makes them different from the others," Ms. Koto said. "However, we also buy those that come from other islands in the group because they are similar."

She said the texture is very smooth and almost like the ones that the Tongans and Samoans used to weave their mats.

For the two women, selling ‘voivoi’ is their bread and butter. Koto said they buy ‘voivoi’ from women who travel to Suva from the Lomaiviti group.

"Just like us the women that we buy from use voivoi as their main source of income," Ms. Delai said. "They sell their ‘voivoi’ and the price depends on the lengths."

The longer ones would sell for FJ$10 [US$6] a bunch of 100 leaves, FJ$5 [US$3] for the shorter ones.

"The ‘somo’ or black [dyed] ‘voivoi’ is sold at a higher price than the white ones," she said. Delai said once they buy ‘voivoi’ they do give it to other women who would straighten the leaves and coil it, before it is given back to Koto and Delai to sell.

"We pay women who work on our voivoi before we sell it. It is not an easy job and we always appreciate it when they ask us for jobs," Delai said.

Delai said their ‘voivoi’ business is slowly climbing up the ladder as more resorts and hotels are using traditional designs in the interior of their buildings.

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