Expo and masi


Artisan handicrafts are often the expertise of women in many societies (Traditional ones are rather ‘men’s area’ in Japanese culture though). The Government of Fiji has been promoting handicrafts making to generate more income for women as part of livelihoods.
National Women’s Expo is the culmination of the support given to those artisans by the Ministry of Women. The theme of 2015 Expo was ‘connecting women to market’. 570 women came to the capital City of Suva from all over Fiji with their products and exhibited/sold over three days of Expo,14-16 Oct.

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This is masi, bark cloth with traditional or modern designs painted on it.


Here is masi’s home village.


The round ones tied together on the left are the ones to make masi. They are cultivated in the village.


Flattened barks are attached together.



It is painted mostly with brown and black colors, made of soil, some coral or burnt tiers, etc.


Masi sheets were sold well at Expo!





Building her life through a local market


Local markets always look colourful with all different types of fruits, vegetables, roots, spices, etc. People selling those stuffs are colourful, too, with unique life experiences each of them has come through. I had chances to greet a few of them at local markets in Fiji.

IMG_1249 smallMs Bijma Wati showed me some old pictures of Nadi market over 40 years – not photographs but her story working as a market vendor for “40 plus” years. “The market was bustling with more produce and people, and the market business generally used to be better,” she recalls. There were a big mango tree and a coconut tree over there, Bijma pointed now a row of stalls and a cemented parking area. The market was just a space with no roof and stalls.

She used to wrap with old newspaper and now, put in plastic bags.

Bijma demonstrates that she used to wrap with old newspaper and now, put in plastic bags.

The business used to be better but Bijma had to struggle to raise her three sons. Her husband did not help his family make ends meet. By her over 40 years of hard work in the market her sons are now all grown up, one of them is working in a big retail chain in Nadi. She plays with her four ground children at home every day when she comes back from the market. She also had chances to visit her friends in Australia.

“I now work to keep myself going, I enjoy working,” said Bijma.

Bijma continues to keep up with more and more competitive market business by learning and practicing some business skills. If other stalls put six tomatoes on a plate, she has to add one to her plate, too. She attended a training for market vendors this morning, where she learnt about produce presentation and customer relations.
Bijma’s face lighted up when her son’s used-to-be class mate came to her stall to buy tomatoes and catch up with her.

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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 http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/migration-and-remittances