Movie: Sione Falemaka

Sione Falemaka speaks about his arts practice and the objects from the Pacific Collection that he referenced in artwork made for Body Pacifica, a collaboration between the Australian Museum, Casula Powerhouse Arts Center and several contemporary Pacific artists. 

© Australian Museum and Sione Falemaka
Finton Mahony
Other Contributions:
Part of the Body Pacifica exhibition at Casula Powerhouse Arts Center


My name is Sione [Maletal] Falemaka. I have a very long name because I was born in a village named Makefu to two families that often fight with one another. From my mother’s side we have a Samoan heritage that she never really talks about very much. But mostly I think, from my father’s side, we may have a Tongan influence as well. I started weaving as a child on [Neua] Island. At the moment I’m living in Sydney and I have been for more than 25 years. I’ve been weaving and beading because when I was born I think I was born with pandanas plant in my feet or in my hands, so I’ve always learned to weave from an early age.

So I can remember when the women were weaving in the village, I’d be cutting up their mats and starting again to follow the pattern that they weaved. That was my introduction to learning how to weave. I weave from anything I can find, including things from the recycle garbage. Things like buttons, beads, very expensive silk threads and paint and mixed media really. Well I decided to choose the waka because it’s very important for the families on the island to have a waka. I also remember that my uncle used to make real life model sizes for my father to build canoes from it.

But in this particular case I also chose it because body adornment is part of the theme and I do have a fascination with the shells; so how the shells have been threaded without any hole that has been drilled into it, which I think is quite an ingenious way. Also in my work I like threads, yarns and strings, so I also was taken by how they look like it’s not even spun, but I think it’s been singularly plied out yarn threads from a [unclear] and then plaited together to use as latching and hatching in the construction of this canoe.

But this prototype for making other headdresses or other ornamental decorations for the body, these particular pieces of object are very interesting because they are made out of fo'fo' plant, which is the wild hibiscus trees that used to grow around the island. There’s quite a long procedure and process in preparing the actual fibre before it’s ready to be used. You normally chop down this tree, tie them into bundles and then stick them in the ocean with lots of rocks on top of it so it doesn’t float away. Then after six weeks you go back and you peel it off and you end up with this lovely white fibre. I think the whiter the fibre was more valued at the time, from what I remember.

It’s got quite a unique twining technique to it and as you can see, it could be a flower or it could be anything that could be shaped up to be decorative. In my work I use a lot of feathers, like weaving the band for the stem, inserting the feather into the framework which derives again from this ancient Polynesian technique of wrapping. I mean, this is wrapping one fibre of one string and tying every so often at a regular repeat just to ensure it doesn’t fall to bits or wear away. They generally represent happy times I think for communities, joyful moments in people’s lives when they had festivals and stuff like that. I’m calling it Garlands of Joy

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Tags finton, sione, falemaka, tonga, Niue, samoa, hibiscus, waka, canoe, shell, fibre, senet, joy, garlands, weaving, pandanas,