Sunday, October 07, 2012

More experiences

It has been raining off and on for several days at the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu, but when it was announced on the VHF radio that humpback whales were spotted nearby, Jordan and I hopped in the dinghy to see if we could spot them up close. It started to pour but we continued and did see several spouting. We even saw 1 large whale tail as the whale came up to dive down (no whale tale!)

The next day, all the women sailors (and a few men too) came to the community hall to watch the local women weave their intricate mats.

Mat in process of being made

The hall, a basic wooden structure with no furniture, was filled with women weaving and singing, women caring for babies, the occasional woman resting or napping, and of course all the sailor spectators. The locals at first weaved very slowly so we could see how they did it and then later displayed their speedy Gonzales fingers as they weaved unbelievably fast.

Each mat, usually about 6 feet by 15 feet, would be worked on by 4 women all day every Friday. Then each group of 4 would meet at 1 of their homes to continue working on the mat each and every day except Sundays and only occasionally on Saturdays. The mat would take about 1 week to complete - if the mat was 20 feet long, it would take about 2 weeks.

Busy weaving with many spectators

These mats are used on floors to sit and/or walk on but smaller versions are also worn by the women, men, and children for special occasions and can even be worn daily. They can be painted with a dye, decorated quite lavishly, or kept fairly simple. When a death occurs, the degree of mourning can be established by how close the mat extends to the woman's underarms. They are worn over black clothing when in mourning and are tied around the waist. I think folks must get incredibly hot beneath these heavy mats.

On Sundays, work is not allowed. Locals can only sleep, eat, and go to church which is considered to be very important in their lives. We had the occasion to see several of the beautiful mats being worn when we attended church one Sunday. They all seemed to have exceptional singing voices as we listened to the hymns sung in native Tongan language.

Getting ready to enter church

Posing with Jordan after church - check out the beaded detail

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