Pepa 'Ie Tōga (Paper Fine Mat)
This autoethnographic research project explores the extent to which the weaving techniques of the finely woven 'Ie Tōga (fine mat), the highly valued treasure of Samoa, could be replicated through substituting the traditional pandanus leaf for paper. This is examined through a series of material tests that explore the techniques of fine mat weaving under the conditions of paper to produce a quality that is similar to the traditional 'Ie Tōga. The weaving design and techniques drawn on in this project are learned by analysing my family heirloom, our 'Ie Tōga (fine mat), video and photographic imagery collected from books and online sources. This method of analysis, to observe, learn, test, and adapt using these contextual resources, was prompted by the Covid-19 virus. The closing of borders between New Zealand and Samoa through the duration of this project resulted in 'using things at hand' as a way of learning and making. This project shares the hidden voices of the women's role behind the weaving, survival and sacrifice to protect what we have today as one of the most precious items in ceremony and gift exchanges, important in fa'asamoa (Samoan way).
Stored in a closet covered in a black rubbish bag, folded and hanging on a hanger along with my church clothes, is our family Samoan Measina (treasure), the 'Ie Tōga. In our living room, mum carefully takes out our fine mat handing it to my sister and me to unfold in front of her and my father. Unravelling the mat, one hand holding the top corner and the other controlling the bottom half decorated with red feathers followed by a fringe of pandanus - Samoa’s Measina.
Planning to take a trip with family back home to Samoa in 2020 to learn the weaving process of the fine mat, I was looking forward to sitting with my Aunty and the other women in the Fale lalaga (weaving house in the village of Fagali’i in Apia. However, Covid- 19 meant I could not follow through with this learning experience. As a result, I developed alternative strategies for learning to weave.
This research project seeks to examine how the weaving techniques used in the production of the finely woven 'Ie Tōga (fine mat), a highly valued treasure of Samoa, could be replicated by substituting the traditional pandanus leaf used to make it for paper. This embodied research project sought to examine women’s role in the labour of weaving to ensure the survival of a heritage art form: one of the most precious items in ceremony and gift exchanges, important in fa'asamoa (Samoan way).
For Samoan weavers, it is a time-consuming process to produce a fine mat, and while these are still available, they are not as refined as my family 'Ie Tōga, given to us by my grandmother. Drawn to the delicate weave of fine mats, I sought to learn and explore weaving techniques, like those Samoan women who have gone before me. I used a range of different papers to trial weaving techniques that would render the surface with a similar, delicate quality found in traditional 'Ie Tōga. The weaving methods drawn on in this project were acquired by analysing our family 'Ie Tōga, in addition to video and photographic imagery collected from books and online sources. The aim was to observe, learn, test, and adapt, prompted by the Covid-19 virus. The closing of borders resulted in 'using things at hand' as a way of making do. Under difficult circumstances, I was still able to engage with developing my cultural knowledge of weaving using paper as my raw material.
The mat samples are made of two laser-cut strips. I was fascinated by the burn trace left on the paper from the laser cutting machine as it has a similar colour to the 'Ie Tōga. The fine mat sample is made of 120gsm snow white paper, as it was material readily available to me during the lockdowns. The paper experiments prepared me for the design of a ‘sampler’ mat by discovering how to lock the edges and learn how to continue when I ran out of strand lengths by weaving in another strand. Weaving the pepa ‘Ie Tōga (paper fine mat) replica has made me appreciate the significance of this heritage art form and the remarkable contributions women have made to its production.