Weaving Cook Islands Style

Posted by Jenni Shah on

This post was originally posted on my family blog when we lived on Aitutaki in the Cook Islands - one of the most incredibly beautiful places in the world...

One Foot Island Aitutaki Lagoon

I have been interested in the local weaving for quite a while and decided to get my A-into-G and make some inquiries a few weeks back. I talked to my lovely friends at the hotel laundry who pointed me to the Vainetini (women's craft group) and 'Auntie' Josie. I told Auntie what I wanted to achieve and the conversation went like this:
ME: Auntie, I would like to weave a mat. Do you have any rau ara (dried pandanus leaves) available for sale?

JOSIE: (sideways look) Who is teaching you?
ME: I have no teacher, but I have been practicing on nikau (coconut) leaves.
JOSIE: Hmm… … … … I have some tupe (rolls of prepared pandanus) here, but why don’t you start on a placemat? Here is one, see if you can copy it.
ME: (reluctantly) OK, I can do that.
JOSIE: Bring it back, then I will help get started on your mat.

So with book ‘in hand’ (on line at NZ Electronic Text Center) I made a start, and then kept on going. The picture with me in it is the completed hatu rua, a starting edge with wefts running both ways. The second picture is part way through the second row. The third picture shows the completed raurahanga (a length of mat body), with the start of the pae (decorative border).

Hatu rua, the start of weaving a Cook Islands floor mat

Hatu rua, start of weaving a Cook Islands floor mat

Hatu rua, the start of weaving.
The raurahanga, first half (body) of a Cook Islands woven floor mat. The pae, start of the decorative border of a Cook Islands mat
The raurahanga, first half of the body. The pae, start of the decorative border.

I took my completed raurahanga (mat body, part 1) to Auntie Josie to see during a session of the Vainetini. I sweated nervously as Auntie unrolled my mat in front of all the other aunties who where there working together on a Tivaevae (patchwork quilt). Then it was discussed and examined, while I sweated away.

Auntie Josie turned to me and nodded, “you have done well, very well. The ladies are saying that you have put them to shame, that you have done this so well and they have not bothered to do any weaving.” I was delighted, but felt somewhat awkward. But all was positive, and I returned the following day to start the border with Josie 1-on-1. It was hard work, mentally and physically! After 4 hours I returned home exhausted. It is hard to describe, but the pattern emerges on a diagonal, so you need to figure out which wefts to lift at each line to produce a pattern which doesn’t appear for another 10 rows. Once you get going it is fine, but challenging.

Pae and raurahanga, body and border of a Cook Islands floor mat The back view of the pae (border) section on a Cook Islands floor mat
The completed first half of the mat. The back side of the decorative border (pae).

So the next step is to complete the pae border for this section, then turn it around, split the thick butt pieces into wefts and add in new wefts of rau ara to complete a new raurahanga section which will end in the opposite border.  COOL!

After the honu (join), adding new material to the body of a Cook Islands mat Half way through the second part of the body (raurahanga) of a Cook Islands mat
After the honu (join), adding new material to the body.
Nearly finished, part way through the second border (pae) of a Cook Islands mat Completed Cook Islands floor mat, woven from dried pandanus leaves
Nearly finished, part way through the second border (pae). Completed Cook Islands floor mat, woven from dried pandanus leaves.

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