Weaving and woodworking
Monday 20th July 2015
Back into the village this morning for weaving lessons for the women and woodworking for the men. After popping our heads into Tara and Joe’s to say ‘Good morning’, I made my way with Pepe to the house of her host family, where Grandma was awaiting us. Steve and Bear continued to the wordworking shed.
The floors of the village houses are covered with grass mats of various sizes, and it apparently takes two weeks for one lady to make the largest – I would guess about 3 x 4 metres. We aspired to something more like a placemat! Grandma began by pulling some rolls of dried pandanus grass from a box, and showed us the cutters she uses to get strips of uniform width from each blade of grass. Then she unrolled a few blades of grass and ran the edge of a piece of shell to along their lengths to straighten them out. Next she ran the cutter along both edges of the grass, discarding the thick middle part with the vein in it. She began cutting about 15 cms from the end so that there was a solid bit to hold the strips together, and then interlaced two pieces to start the whole thing off.
Coiled blades of dried pandanus grass. Size 4 (of 6) cutting tool.
The first two pieces of grass interlaced... ...joined by a further two...
..and so on...
Once the number of pairs of interlaced grass were sufficient for the width required, the weaving began. This was the most straightforward bit of the whole process, but still took me a while to get into any sort of rhythm, my fingers being nowhere near as nimble as Grandma’s or any of the other lovely ladies who came over to join in with the tuition. At one point I was thinking that maybe a coaster would have been a better size than a placemat!..
Nettie took a turn at watching over me to make sure I did it correctly. Fumbling fat fingers!
As the mat grew, I kept shifting position to ease the strain on my back – just not used to sitting and working on the floor like these ladies.
The edges were a little more demanding, requiring two turns of the strip and then turning over of the whole mat. I didn’t really get to grips with this bit, but the ladies were happy to help and always with an indulgent smile.
Grandma demonstrates the twists required... ...to make this edge.
The mat grew, slowly but surely... ...and wasn’t actually looking too bad!
The ladies kindly found a low table for Pepe to work on. I chatted to Tai while his Mum worked on the tricky bit of my mat.
We worked on through the morning, and were expecting to go for a walk and give the ladies a break for lunch, when another lady appeared, set a tablecloth on the floor and set it with four places. Shortly after, Steve and Bear appeared, having been summoned from their woodworking, and we were invited to sit for lunch of fishcakes, cassava and scones, washed down with lemon tea made with leaves picked locally. Once finished, we left the ladies to have their lunch, and we wandered over to the woodworking shed to see what the boys had been up to.
They had been given a piece of firewood on which to try out the woodworking tools used by the men – they understandably did not trust them with their valuable hardwood! They had each fashioned a drum beater out of it using the main tool of a blade tied to a piece of wood.
The main woodworking tool is a blade tied to a carved or appropriately shaped piece of wood. Bear’s partly hewn drum beater to right.
The tool is used for shaping and smoothing, leaving only the finest finishing off for their limited other tools.
Steve noticed that their handsaw was blunt, and remarked that it needed sharpening. They asked if he knew how to sharpen one, and when he said he did, one of the men disappeared and came back shortly with a blade set and a file. Steve then showed them how to sharpen the saw. It seems they had had the equipment for some time, but did not know how to use it. We were very glad of this opportunity for Steve to pass on his knowledge in return for all their kindness.
Steve takes a break from woodcarving and watches Joe. The beautiful bowl we bought from the Fulaga woodcarvers.
The boys had finished their carving and when we returned to Grandma’s the finishing touches were being put to our place mats. It had been a very interesting morning, seeing the villagers skills at work and enjoying the opportunity to have a go ourselves. Just as much, though, we enjoyed being with the people, seeing how contented and happy they are with their lives and sharing their easy sense of humour as we joked about our limited abilities to do what they find so easy. Above all though, we were humbled and thankful for being welcomed, accepted, and included so readily by these lovely people who live a life so very different from our own. A privilege indeed.
The fruits of our labours:
Steve’s drum beater – all his own work and unfinished. My placemat – mostly the ladies’ work with a bit of input from me!