"Like a Mat Being Woven...."

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  • Paper published in Pacific Arts, vol 3, pp115-127 (2007). Abstract: Commoner women’s textile-work is a key medium in the ongoing process of hybridizing Tongan culture for the contemporary ‘modernity plus tradition’ present. One set of wefts for this paper are ethnographic. Commoner women’s knowledge and practices have been overshadowed by academics’ and Tongan elites’ emphasis on esoteric knowledge and chiefly uses. This is ironic: for decades Tongan chiefs have been only peripherally involved in textile creation, either as clients or recipients of ceremonial gifts, not producers and deployers. To redress this, I document aspects of technical, sociological and cultural knowledge associated with pandanus textiles, as taught to me by Tongan commoner women. The other set of wefts are more philosophical. Women’s textile-related knowledge includes more than the techniques for processing foliage into culturally symbolic cloths. Their skills with harvesting, processing, plaiting and deploying textiles is essential cultural know-how which is recorded in emotional and bodily –rather than didactic– ways. Women ‘feel’ how to make and deploy their textiles. This embodied form of knowledge underwrites essential aspects of Tongan culture, but is devalued as merely labour of the uneducated. Thus, I seek to celebrate a particular form of cultural knowing, one which depends on practice and tangible experience rather than oral instruction.

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    Article (Published)
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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International