Polynesian crafts are usually the practical arts completed by women – basket making, weaving, and tapa. Tourists should avoid items sold at souvenir shops, which will not have anything to do with local culture. Instead, they should head to local women’s committee shops, church groups, local markets, or from the craftswomen themselves. Remember to avoid objects made from turtle shells, leather, or marine mammal ivory. These are prohibited to enter the United States and could cost you a $20,000 fine and 5 years’ in prison. Tourists should also resist the temptation to purchase jewelry or other items made from sea shells or coral.
Woven items are made from pandanus fiber, coconut leaf and husk, vine tendrils, banana stems, tree and shrub bark, stems and leaves from water weeds, and the skin of the sago palms. Vegetable dyes are sometimes used to add color, and shells are sometimes used to cut, curl, or otherwise make the fibers more pliable.
Tapa is the inner, water-soaked bark of the paper mulberry tree. It is scraped by shells, and pounded with wooden mallets. The pieces are then joined by manioc juice. Sheets of tapa feel like felt when finished. On many islands, tapa is still used for clothing, bedding, room dividers, and ceremonial red carpets.
Melanesia is known for its wood carvings, with designs passed down from generation through generation. These wood carvings often suggest mystic feelings of their former religious beliefs.
Cite for September Posts: Stanley, D., South Pacific Handbook.