February 19, 2015
August 09, 2015
Honolulu Museum of Art
The museum’s collection of mats from islands throughout the Pacific highlights the region’s skilled weaving traditions—makaloa from Hawai’i, i’e toga from Samoa, a sese mat from Vanuatu, kabae (male dance mat) from Kiribati, jaki-ed from the Marshall Islands, as well as examples from the rainforests of Borneo, Philippines and the Solomon Islands. Mats were often ornamented with patterned, abstract designs, or sometimes adorned with added fringes, feathers, or bits of yarn with distinctive ethnic and regional identifiers, respected and coveted as heirlooms and heritage mats.
These mats’ common denominator is plaiting—they were worked by hand, without a loom and originally made only of natural fibers, such as pandanus (pandanus tectorius), rattan (calameae), and other sedge grasses, referred to as makaloa (cyperus laevigatus) in Hawai‘i. Informally, mats were used to create barriers, to insulate floors and walls, or for sleeping. Officially, they were used for receiving honored guests. Others may have been charged specifically for marking ceremonies and rituals, worn around the hips as body adornment, displayed as a sign of wealth, offered in gift exchanges, conveyed as economic currency, or presented in the investiture of chiefly titles.