Loom weaving of traditional skirts is a labor-intensive process that holds special significance for women in the Caroline Islands (Micronesia).
While modern materials have mostly replaced the traditional banana and pandanus threads, the basic process persists unchanged. It requires skillful use of one’s body weight to tense the loom through a back strap and stretch delicate threads between a pair of bars.
Volunteers with Habele, a US-based charity, have provided spools of cotton and polyester thread to a consortium of women’s groups in Yap State Micronesia, hoping to help them pass those specialized skills and sense of heritage to a new generation.
The gift was presented through Regina Raigetal. She serves both as a Habele Director as well as with the Yap-based “Waa’gey.” Attending the presentation was Nils Winkler, CEO of Yapital, a European-based electronic payments company. Yapital donated the polyester and cotton fabric, as part of its ongoing partnership with Habele to support K-12 students across Yap State. The materials will help master weavers partner with high school aged young women who are themselves seeking to master the loom techniques.
Project coordinator Waa’gey is a community-based organization that uses traditional skills to confront the social, economic and environmental challenges faced by the people of Micronesia’s most remote Outer Islands. Waa’gey has made headlines for its revival of dugout sailing canoes in Yap State, but the group also pursues projects centered on skills traditionally practiced by women.
Ongoing efforts include preservation of weaving of so-called “every day” lava lavas, as well as the revival of the highly specialized loom weaving of “Machi” skirts, a specialized type of lava-lava that serves as an important ceremonial textile.
Acclaimed anthropologist Dr. Donald Rubinstein has explained the significance of this art form:
“… the machi holds a unique place, as the only textile which is never worn as everyday dress, but serves exclusively ceremonial functions, and has a special relationship to traditional island chieftainship... Although no longer used as regular chiefly tribute, nor at the inauguration of the island chief or the coming-of-age ceremony for young men, the Fais machi today retains two important cultural functions, as a burial shroud for senior men, and as the highest form of gift. Both of these functions rest on the preeminent status of the machi as the most valuable object of local manufacture.”A photo blog documenting of Waag’ey’s progress is here and more information on the Habele Listening Tour can be found here.