Lady Tunakaimanu Feilakepa is renowned and greatly respected for her traditional cultural knowledge in Tonga and across the Pacific. Here she discusses Tongan mats, a decline in natural materials and the value of viewing such a collection.
The mats within the Miss Snell Collection are woven from a variety of different pandanus. They are mostly floor mats of single weave. There was also one kie mat used for celebrations in weddings, birthday and evening funerals as waist mats on top of tapa or as shade from the sun or dew in the evening. From looking at the traditional mats in particular I believe that they can show young Tongans the fine weaving that they have in their culture and the many uses that the mats have. Although the mat collection does not consist of advanced and intricately weaved materials I believe it is important for Tongans to view.
Decline in Materials
Today we also came across a little model house electric lamp which I found quite special. During annual agriculture shows held at each group of islands there is a category for ‘new innovations’ and I believe that this little model house was one of those new innovations and I am sure this would have won a prize! By just looking at some of the materials used during Miss Snell’s time in Tonga I have noticed the disappearance of the white hana seeds and the diminishing of the red lopa seeds. I have also noticed the scarcity of cowry shells or indeed any shells to be found on the beaches. To get shells you must now go into the water and find ways to remove the shellfish inside, such as boiling the shells or feeding them to ant nests.
I am interested in old culture as a member of the Tonga National Council which encourages women to make our handicrafts using the traditional materials. I thoroughly enjoyed looking at the collection and in doing so I feel that in a small way we can contribute to the preservation of our crafts and make it known to other people who might be interested.