Exploring Natural Fiber in Micronesia

  weaving natural fiber micronesia
  Decorative items woven by hand in Micronesia.
imageplaceholder Christina Garton
Editor, Weaving Today

One of the many joys of being a weaver is the ability to travel the world while sitting at my loom. I can weave up Scandinavian boundweave and in my mind travel from my desert home to much colder Norway. It really is an amazing feeling to know that we as weavers are all connected no matter where we live or what we weave. In her wonderful post, Janney Simpson writes of the amazing fiber traditions found in Micronesia. Happy Weaving! –Christina

Len Wo (Good Afternoon)!

I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Kosrae (pronounced Ko-shrye), Micronesia, to visit my son, Matt. At 42 square miles of mountainous land and a population of around 7000, Kosrae is covered with lush tropical forests and surrounded by mangroves and coral reefs. Kosrae is called the “Island of the Sleeping Lady” due to a famous mountain range with the profile of a lady lying down. It is also referred to as the “Jewel of Micronesia” enticing about 900 tourists yearly who come mainly to dive, surf, and fish. The pace of life is slow, with most people still living a semi-subsistent lifestyle based on fishing and farming.

  weaving natural fiber 2 micronesia
  Natural fibers drying at the Green Banana Paper Co.

Although our son began his adventures on Kosrae as a volunteer teacher, he resides there now operating the Green Banana Paper Co., an “eco-factory” he designed to recycle local agricultural waste. Raw plant fibers are extracted for weaving and paper making. The factory is equipped to twist fiber as well as press areca palm leaves into reusable bowls and plates. Banana and abaca trees, pineapple leaves, coconut fronds, hibiscus bark, pandanus leaves, taro stems, and areca palm are among the fibers processed in his factory. Many of these plants produce long, beautiful, and strong fibers that are rare and exotic to the rest of the world.

After five years, we had finally arrived to check out his new project. On our first day, we visited the State Museum for island history. There, I found photos of weavers and looms from the late 1800s, replicas of old weaving tools, pirns of abaca, and even a diagram of the knot used to tie abaca for rope making. As a handweaver myself, my curiosity was piqued! A highlight of the trip was meeting two women weavers who use shells and many native plant fibers to create beautiful ornaments, wall decorations, jewelry, frames, baskets and boxes. They weave by hand in their homes, enjoying each other’s company and loud music. I saw how the long lustrous fibers were removed from the plant and allowed to dry. Shells for their work are collected right outside the house, cleaned, and pierced with a dental tool and flat coral as their awl and stone.

As their guest, I was delighted to receive several pieces as parting gifts. In return, all I could do was share photographs of my weaving studio and handwoven fabrics. They were amazed by the floor looms! After seeing the beautiful hand weaving and artistic abilities of the Kosraean women, I predict they will take easily to table or floor looms. I’m already looking forward to my next trip, when we will bring floor looms to Kosrae.

For more information on these exotic raw fibers, please contact Matt Simpson at greenbananapapers@gmail.com.

Kulo (Thank you)!

Janney Simpson

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