Tongan mats

mats Uiha 45Tongan mats are famous among other Pacific islanders. People want to buy or exchange with theirs. I was asked by my colleague to take her mat when I was going to Tonga and exchange it with a Tongan one. I could not do so as the mat was big and bulky to fly with, but understood why she wanted a Tongan mat.

fine mats Uiha 47Variety of handicrafts are sold at the local market in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga. Fans, bags, kiekie (hanging belt), most of them are made of pandanus leaves. Mats are sold in different sizes. Smaller and thinner ones are for Ta’ovala, which is worn by Tongan people by wrapping the middle of body with it. Ta’ovala is formal attire like suites, particularly for people working in the government. Some finer ones are for special occasions like weddings or funerals. People exchange them as gift. Bigger and rougher ones are to spread on the floor as familiar to my notion of ‘mats’. A small, fine one was sold from US$400 in the market! Mat making in Tonga is an important source of income for families.

Tongan mats

Spreading a mat on a track (left); Kiekie (right)

We flew from Nuku’alofa to Ha’apai, another island group.

There are many patches of farming land in Ha’apai, just next to houses. Farms are organized well, people were working on the farm in the evening.

farmsWe took a boat to Uiha island. Pandanus were growing from backyard farm to the forest. Some of them are just recovering from the cyclone hit Ha’apai in January 2014.

A family was working on the pandanus leaves sitting in the forest, son and daughter bring cut leaves to their parents, father splits leaves and removes thorny part, and mother rolls them into circles.

Tongan mats1Tongan mats3Those half-processed pandanus leaves are brought home or a workshop for further processing. Women soak them in the sea water and hang to dry them. Washed, dried thin pandanus leaves are now ready to be woven into mats, kiekie and other handicrafts.

drying Uiha 41Some mats are shipped to and sold in Nuku’alofa as well as outside Tonga. Emigrated family members usually arrange shipping and selling to oversea Tongan communities. It is a family business.

Many Tongan people emigrate mostly to US, New Zealand and Australia. According to the WB’s data, 45.4%, almost a half of the population of Tonga emigrated in 2010, which is the 8th highest number among countries in the world. So, remittances sent back to Tonga by them are also high, 28% against its GDP in 2009. That is the second highest in the world.

Tongatapu Fri pm 1We came back to Nuku’alofa and spent our last day in Tonga. Town of Nuku’alofa looked clean, well organized with wide streets, rather quiet, except Friday night, when people come out and enjoy socializing in pubs or Tongan sort of discos.

Ha'apai Thu 1(Reference)

World Bank, Migration and Remittances Factbook 2011