Pacific Islands palm-leaf weaving, part 1

I promised to share some photos here of palm-leaf weaving in Tonga and Fiji. I was there the summer before last, on the trip of a lifetime based around a kayak-camping trip between some far remote Tongan islands. Memories of this were re-kindled a couple of weeks ago when I went on a twining course with Mary Crabb.

Pacific island culture is unbelievably friendly, more than anywhere else I’ve ever been to. That makes it very easy to get chatting to people about their crafts, despite limited common language. It’s amazing how much you can communicate with signs and gestures, and before you know it you’re having a lesson. I had a lesson in palm-leaf braiding with this lovely lady, in her home on the island of Eua. She has prepared the palm-leaf fronds, firstly by drying them out in the sun for a couple of days. Then the wide fronds are ‘sliced’ down into narrower strands, by running a sharp piece of tin-can along the length of them. The fronds are quite tough and so they’re pretty hard on the hands, but they make very strong items once they’re woven. For the purposes of teaching, I was shown how to make a four-ply braid. The same principle is used for weaving bigger things, and all sorts of decorative details are added.

Life in Tonga moves at a much gentler pace than here in the UK. Weaving mats is a chance to sit and gossip with friends. I heard the most heavenly singing coming from this Church hall, and wandered in to find these women sitting weaving. They welcomed me in to sit with them while they worked and sang.

And in case you wondered how we got around in Tonga, here’s how. That’s my brother and husband in one of the kayaks, loaded with tents, water, cooking pot and frying pan.

The little speck on the horizon is the next day’s destination. And in the meantime there’s the taxing question of which exact spot in heaven to set up camp…

I’ll dig out some photos of how the woven items are used in daily life. Unfortunately for now time has run out, so I’ll include those in a later post. I do feel nostalgic for the experience of ‘timelessness’ in the Pacific. I don’t expect that people on the islands often say ‘I didn’t have time’. There always is time, if not today then tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Pacific Islands palm-leaf weaving, part 1

  1. Janice

    What a beautiful place! And delightful people too, it seems. Their work is gorgeous. I used to have a basket with lid that looked something like this – bought from Traidcraft, I think. Have you remembered how to do the weaving? I wonder if the principles might be useful in your twining?

    1. Jane Post author

      Hi Janice. Yes it’s a stunning place, and so friendly. Just yesterday I unpacked another box (still piles of them 6 months after the house-move!) and came across the samples from my lesson, so I’m trying to remind myself how it works. I’d love to go back there sometime.


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