Fiji Handicrafts Guide

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Fijian Handicrafts Guide
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There are three distinct Fijian handicrafts:
Wooden carvings; Masi cloth (tapa in other parts of the Pacific); and Pandanus weaving.

Fiji's woodcarvers are among the best in the South Pacific and those in the Lau Group are particularly admired. There is unfortunately, a rather crude market for cheap rather tacky and not very well made wooden handicrafts. You'll soon pick these out in the shops that sell them.

Masi was introduced to the Fiji islands by Tongan invaders to the east. The fine and delicate cloth comes from the bark of the mulberry bush. The bark, which matures at about one year, is beaten into a pulp and rolled by hand to make a paper material. The cloth is then patterned using two pigments - black from mangrove mud and red from clay. Vatulele Islanders produce the most masi in Fiji. Other regions where the women have inherited the skill are the Lau group, Buca Bay in Vanua Levu and some villages in Ra. Each region has its own particular traditional designs stencilled upon the masi. Masi cloth is also used for traditional costumes at ceremonial functions.

Pandanus is a rather floppy but spiky leafy plant. It grows well in rocky soil. Its leaf is picked, dried and stripped of its spiky spine and sometimes left to soak in the sea (otherwise boiled in water) to make it supple and easy to work with. Once thoroughly dried in the sun, the leaf is used for weaving baskets, fans, hats and many other useful items.

Much of the craft that is reproduced for the tourist market is done so in local villages by those who learned the skills as a child from their parents and grandparents. Some of the smart boutique shops have secured exclusive rights to a few of these gifted crafts people. If you're not looking for the most elaborate of items, try the local craft markets where locals rent stalls to sell their home-made goods. Go with an open mind, these people are used to selling to tourists and will mark the price high.

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