The story about grass-skirts
A question I’m often asked, and I know I am being teased by friends and people from other cultures is; “where is your grass-skirt?” Many people expect you to have one and wear one because you are from the islands. May be they are just joking or wishing they could see you in a grass-skirt. Who knows? The other question I often get asked is, “where are your coconut shells?” We will leave the second question for later. May be they have watched too many Tahitian dancers.
As for the grass-skirt, let me tell you, I do have one. In-fact, I have had more than one over the years. I have one grass-skirt with me here in Australia. It was not easy getting it through quarantine, but it got through. The sad part is that I have not had a chance to wear the grass-skirt in ten years. It is now too short and small for me. That says a lot doesn’t it? I need to start thinking about making a new one.
The heritage of PNG women
Grass-skirts are the pride of women in Papua New Guinea and other Pacific islands. In the Melanesian region, grass-skirts are made from and dyed, with natural fibres and pigments. More women are using Chinese made dyes for the brighter colours, but often, traditional performances, songs, and dancing call only for plain grass-skirts.
Grass-skirts are made from young fibres of sago palms, bark, sisal, pandanus, banana fibres, and many other natural fibres. The time it takes to source, collect, and prepare the raw materials; splicing, drying and dying takes a lot longer than actually making the skirt. The collection of the material process could be weeks or months and the skirt can be made in a week or less.
Using natural fibres
In my tribe, women use young palm leaves for grass-skirts. The shoot is cut early morning and boiled or spliced and dried immediately to stop iodising/browning of the cream colour. This process captures the supreme creamy white colour. If you ever see the weaving of the Micronesian women, the same kind of process is used to keep young coconut fibre almost white. A tree bark is kept under water for weeks before it becomes soft enough to pulp and split into threads for twisting. The threads would then be used to sew the palm leaves into place at the waist band. When the palm leaf is dried, we decide where the colours would be on the grass-skirt design and dye the colours. For black we use charcoal and dark grey, the fibres are buried in the water for a few weeks. Red comes from a tree seed and finally turmeric is used for yellow and orangey shades.
Rhonda prepares her grass-skirt for festival
I found this interesting film on YouTube (see link below) which gives an insight into a young woman’s preparation for the Hiri Moale Festival. Rhonda Tiana, a Motu-Koitabuan gives you an opportunity to see her prepare her grass-skirt, and use it in the Festival. This grass-skirt is from Central Province.