Ellen Pai (right) and her sister showing the handmade Rennell and Bellona traditional mat.
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ONE of the most commonly used items in Solomon Islands’ traditional culture is the “custom mat.” It is woven by hand from pandanus and coconut leaves.

Nowadays the practice of traditional mat making has made a new twist among local women artists in the country. In Honiara, it has become a popular commodity in the local market. Some local women are making money from weaving different sizes and colors of traditional sleeping mats.

Explaining how she ventured into the business of mat making, Ellen Pai from Rennell and Bellona province said weaving and selling traditional mats is one way of earning a living since she moved here to Honiara with her family.

She explained that it had taken her more than seven years in the business of traditional mat making and have managed her family goals such as paying up children’s school fees including other small family needs and wants.

“Although my husband had worked as a private mechanic back in the village, I decided to find my way to cater to the overwhelming needs and wants of my family. I did not want to lean on my husband but I wanted both of us to share responsibility in looking after our family together,” she said.

Mrs. Pai had set up a private stall to sell her traditional products at the Art Gallery compound in Honiara.

“I sold my local products at the price value of $150 and above but sometimes I could display my products for a week without receiving money from local customers or even visiting tourists from cruise boats,” she explained.

But to put things more into perspective, Mrs. Pai had encountered several challenges when she initially started her business.

“My initial challenge was the lack of the local bush materials. I had to go back to my home province to get bush materials such as pandanus leaves – the most important material I need to undertake the production of the traditional mat,” she told Solomon Women.

According to the Solomon Islands Historical Encyclopaedia, weaving materials used widely in the Solomon Islands are pandanus leaves, coconut palm leaves, Asama vine (a fern), orchid and banana fibers, tree bark, and other plant fibers.

“There are two basic forms of weaving. Polynesians on islands such as Sikaiana and Rennell and Bellona produce fine weaving. People of the Western Solomons produce a more open weave, influenced by Tongan missionaries who introduced new techniques.”

Whereas mat making is a traditional practice and skill shared by a very few members of tribal society – every village girl has learned how to weave a mat.

“I started to weave since I was a very young girl. My interest to learn how to weave a mat was obtained from older women in my village,” she said.

While age may be catching up, one thing is for sure; Mrs. Pai has shown no sign of slowing down from doing what she loves best and that is weaving.

“I strongly believe and want to encourage local mothers in the country to venture into such business because it does not only help our family to be financially sustainable but it also promotes and preserves our traditional identity and culture,” she said.

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