'Ie Samoa, fine mat and its cultural value

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Inscribed in 2019 (14.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development, Samoa, 2015

The ‘Ie Samoa is a special finely hand-woven mat fastened at the hem with two rows of green and red feathers, and a loose fringe on one end. Traditionally woven with fine strippings of the pandanus plant, the final product is silk-like. Its shiny coppery colour adds to its value as it is a testament to its age and the natural bleaching process it undergoes. The production process involves a high level of intricacy as each woven strand is as little as one millimeter wide. Producing a single ‘Ie Samoa can therefore take up to several months and even years. Nevertheless, the ‘Ie Samoa is more than a cultural product involving exceptional skill; its true value lies in its use as an object of exchange in traditional ceremonies and rituals that reaffirm kinship ties and strengthen community wellbeing. The ‘Ie Samoa is displayed and exchanged at festive celebrations or on important gatherings such as weddings and funerals, and its exchange contributes profoundly to the maintenance of the social structure. Today, an increasing number of young female weavers are involved, and even male weavers. Women and master weavers have established fine mat committees within their villages, allowing them to exchange ideas about best practice for weaving, and to boost opportunities for strengthening the transmission of the art form.

Master weaver Vilelava Vaipae from Lepuia'i Manono was instrumental in the revitalization of 'ie Samoa. As one of the last known weavers of the traditional 'ie Samoa, she accompanied the Women in Business Development Inc. (WIBDI) trainers to introduce the art to women around the nation.
A representative from the Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development (MWCSD) and master weaver is measuring the 'ie Samoa using her handspan or aga during a monitoring visit to a village women's committee.
Two women from a women's committee displaying a finished weave of 'ie Samoa before it is decorated.
Young daughters often accompany their mothers in the weaving house. These early years of observation of the art of weaving is one of the key ways the practice is transmitted to the young generation.
Men are strong supporters of the women's committee. This has inspired some men to join the women in the weaving process.
Displaying the 'ie Samoa for exchange during a saofa'i or bestowal of chiefly titles ceremony.
Family gathering of members who will be bestowed a chief title, with the 'ie Samoa to the left of the girl.
A young Samoan girl wearing the 'ie Samoa during a traditional dance.
The women of Sagone women's committee in Savaii weaving together one very large fine mat.
The pandanus leaves are cut from the plant and prepared for the weaving of 'ie Samoa.