My grandmother (Allah yer7amha/May she rest in peace) was an extraordinarily talented woman. Despite her formal schooling ending when she was 13, she was a gifted, caring, intelligent polyglot with a knack for all handicrafts, particularly her native Belgian Lace.
For 20+ years, Grama shared her beautiful Belgian lace with the public at the N.C. State Fair’s Village of Yesteryear. I recall her nimble fingers whisking away delicate Christmas ornaments while we watched the nightly Jeopardy!/Wheel of Fortune double feature. I was put to use in whatever way she needed.
I admired her patience as much as her sheer talent and artistic creativity. She tried to teach me all forms of her lace and crafts: Princess, Bobbin, Battenburg… even tatting, knitting, crocheting.
I picked up some, lost most, unfortunately. But I remember I would always sit transfixed by her meticulous eye for detail and ease with which she would create something beautiful with her hands.
All while answering Alex Trebek’s questions.
After she passed away, watching someone so personally connected to me create art like that was something I thought I would never see again. That is, until I came to Samoa and I saw weaving (lalaga).
My PST host mother, Sofia, was president of the Women’s Committee and would sit for hours—sometimes with friends, sometimes alone—and weave floor mats (fala); what I thought were intricate tapestries of Samoan culture that are used for every aspect of daily life.
At that point, I hadn’t seen an ‘ie tōga (“fine mat”). So imagine my shock seeing how much MORE intricate and detailed mats could be.
The art of weaving a mat, especially a fine mat, is a time-honored and recognized tradition in Sāmoa. There is a level of skill, knowledge, and love that has been passed down for generations that no outsider could replicate. Women in a community gather alongside one another to weave the ‘ie tōga, which adds a unique aspect to their roles and identities within the village context.
Fine mats, in particular, hold great value in Sāmoan society and culture. Because of the finesse of their weave, the process of making fine mats can take months or even years! They are often presented and exchanged at weddings, funerals, and other special occasions and are usually passed down within a family.
When I moved to my permanent site, literally across the country from PST site, and I saw my new host mother, Noema, engaged in the same weaving traditions, I was mesmerized. Again.
But could I learn?
Last year, I saw my older sisters assist my mom in repairing one of our family’s ‘ie tōga that my parents were taking to be presented at a funeral. They allowed me to help glue on the decorative red chicken feathers— it was a touching moment to feel included at such an integral and impressionable time early in my service.
Earlier this year was a busy weaving time. As a member of the aualuma (unmarried women’s committee), I participated in their group weaving sessions in preparation for fa’amati, in which we had to prepare 50 mats: tapito (colorful, decorative mats), fala and ‘ie tōga for the district’s church inspection. I helped my friend, Seti, with her pink and gray color schemed mats and her silent encouragement reminded me of the times my grandmother would course-correct my Bobbin lace with a smile and gentle touch.
A few months later, my host mom and the faletua ma tausi (committee for women who are married to high chiefs or pastors) worked together to help weave two new ‘ie tōga to be given to my mom’s sister, a pastor’s wife, for the opening of their new church in another village.
I respected their skill and work, and chose not to interfere, but rather absorb the moment. There’s something wonderful and magical about listening to the multi-generations of women sing while they sit for hours and their hands diligently plait strips of dried panadus leaves.
How often had this happened across the span of Sāmoa’s history? Knowing that Sāmoan women have been weaving for centuries…. wow… it gives me chills just thinking of the continuous historical and cultural significance of this beautiful art.
On a smaller scale, regular floor mats (fala) are woven consistently throughout the year. Like I noted before, these fala are used for everyday activities (sleeping, sitting, eating). Mothers even send a new mat with their children at the start of the school year so it’s common to see the various stages of mat creation at certain points throughout the year.
The females are not the only ones involved in preparing the laufala (panadus leaves) for weaving. It’s all hands on deck in our household! My host father, Si’ufaga, was enlisted to help as well as my nephews and brothers.
Collect laufala (panadus) leaves from plantation
Trim the rough edges and cut off the spine
Roll cut leaves (ta’aiga)
Boil ta’aiga rolls
Unroll boiled ta’aiga and place to dry in sun
After a week-ish, gather dried leaves
Re-roll dried leaves (ta’aiga)
Begin to weave
My mom and sister have been weaving together 10 new fala for the yearly village inspection!
** do you see the hand fan in bottom right corner? It is also made out of woven laufala (panadus)
…. Like my grandmother, my host mom and other women of the village were patient and kind to try to teach me, but let’s just say, weaving is not my thing… I will admire from afar and hopefully bring a fala, woven with love by my host mother with support from whole host family, back home with me after my service is complete in a mere two short months! InshaAllah.