Thursday, April 24, 2008

Leilani; Samoan ie-Toga


The term "fine mat" is not an accurate English translation for the word Ie-Toga, a most valued possession of the royal families of Samoa. The Ie-Toga is never used as a mat; it never was and it will never be, it is much too valuable. The wealth of the chief is measured according to the number of Ie-Togas he has and the history attached to each robe in his collection.

The Ie-Toga is woven by hand from cured leaves of the finest grade of the pandanus plant. Like siapo (bark cloth), the production of Ie-toga (fine mats) remains firmly within the domain of Samoan women. In fact, the Ie-toga is unequivocally the most culturally valued artistic product created in Samoa. To achieve the mat's incredible softness, women remove the dull underside of the leaf before plaiting, then use a double-layered weft technique to give a smooth finish to both sides. The production, use and exchange of all fine mats reinforce social position and gender roles, while allowing the artistic creativity of women to flourish.

Made and controlled by women, Ie-toga are given as gifts at events marking major life events (births, weddings, funerals, title taking). While lesser mats are also exchanged during these events, fine mats hold the most prestige. If fine mats are included in the gift exchange, it bestows great honour on the recipient, and increases the standing of the gift-giver. Ie-toga are quickly noticed and appreciated by event spectators. Women gesture gracefully during the presentation, signalling the mat's importance and bringing attention to its beauty.

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