PHOTO: Eleven year old fine mat weaver Sharon Toetu, a Year 7 student at Nofoali’i Primary School with her fine mat at yesterday’s National Fine Mats Exhibition. Photo Lagi Keresoma/Talamua Media
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – FRIDAY 10 MAY 2019: An 11 year old school girl of Nofoalii village, was the youngest to display the fine mat she worked on for 8 months at yesterday’s National & Exhibition of Fine Mats that kicked off the official activities to celebrate the national Mother’s Day.
Sharon Toetu – a shy Year 7 student at Nofoali’i Primary School, stole the limelight not only being the youngest weaver, but achieving what other women only dream of.
She stood out of the women’s groups from 82 villages from Upolu and Savai’i that participated in the noisy and lively public display of the best of their fine mats and siapo woven over the last 12 months.
Overwhelmed by the whole ceremony, Sharon’s proud grandmother, Telesia Televave said her granddaughter was a shining example for all her grandchildren.
She said Sharon was always with the weavers of her family and the village and she knew her granddaughter was interested in weaving.
“As young as 5, Sharon started weaving little things until she challenged herself and wove a sleeping mat – falalili’i,” said Telesia.
Early last year, Telesia encouraged her 3 daughters to weave fine mats for the village exhibition, and Sharon, not wanting to be left behind, asked her mother Rosa Toetu to start-off weaving a fine mat, and let her finish it.
And so began 8 months of commitment to weaving the fine mat that was showcased yesterday.
“She started weaving the Tosi 1 in August last year and finished it last month in time for the exhibition today,” said Televave.
Early this year, the village committee decided to have an inspection to select the top five fine mats for the national exhibition, and Sharon’s fine mat made the cut.
According to Telesia, none of her daughters work were selected except Sharon’s fine mat.
“She looks forward to working on the fine mat after school, and sometimes, I have to stop her from weaving especially late into the night,” said Telesia.
Government Commits To Fine Mats Program
It has been 16 years since the Government initiated the fine mats weaving programme to improve the quality and standard and overseas markets have since opened up which has generated funds for the women.
Fine mats and siapo – tapa are prized and significant cultural items in most if not all Samoan cultural presentations and activities such as weddings, title bestowals, funerals and church activities.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said the Government will continue to support the program.
“Government is committed to the fine mats program as evident in the approval of the annual budgetary allocations to support this initiative. However, we are also conscious of the sustainability and the need for our people to produce fine mats intended all these years with minimum support from the Government,” said Tuilaepa
He said when the Government realized the many challenges to Samoan culture and sustaining traditional practices, it started the fine mats weaving program to revive the weaving of Samoa’s finest fine mats and producing quality siapo.
“We also consider the initiative as an income generating activity that would respond to the financial needs of our people as well as empowering women, create opportunities for unemployed young women and men to earn a living and contribute positively to the development of their community and country as a whole,” said Tuilaepa.
UNESCO Consideration of Ie Samoa as an Intangible Item
Tuilaepa acknowledged the support by UNESCO to recognize the Samoan fine mat – Ie Samoa as an intangible item adding more value to the cultural item.
“I hope this would generate more interest from the community and people overseas to secure markets for local weavers,” he said.
“I acknowledge the weavers for their commitment in driving this important initiative which has assisted the most vulnerable families and pray the talent is passed on to daughters and sons to continue.”