Beautiful loom-woven textiles of Micronesia display an artistry and technical virtuosity unrivaled elsewhere in the Pacific. Chief among them is the lavalava, a woven skirt from the Outer Islands of Yap State, situated in the Western Caroline Islands.
A new website aims to ensure this important cultural skill is preserved among weavers who have moved far from home.
Weaving these skirts requires tremendous skill, work and patience. It also requires a special type of backstrap loom. The size and weight of these items are such that few women who move off island for health, education, or employment are able to bring a loom with them.
Many migrants are young women, who depart the islands to further their education at an age by which they may not have completely mastered weaving skills. Once in the United States they are often in proximity to other Outer Islanders with expertise, but who similarly lack looms. It is at this point –when young women who lack weaving skills arrive in the US, or women who can weave but lack access to looms give birth to daughters in the US- that the link in transmission of weaving skills is fatally severed.
Habele’s WeavingConnections.org was created to help sustain the tradition among migrants in the mainland US. The site offers context on the lavalava and the cultural tradition in which it is situated. The project provides details about the parts of the loom used to weave lavalavas. Most importantly, Weaving Connections offers simple Do-It-Yourself instructions for Remathau in the mainland US to make looms from easily obtainable materials.
“The site is a labor of love,” explained Habele Founder Neil Mellen. “So many passionate skilled women in the Outer Islands, Yap, Guam, Hawaii and the mainland have given generously of their time and expertise. It is clear to them all how fragile the transmission of these skills really is as Micronesian migrants fan out far from their home islands.”
“Weaving Connections” is an initiative of the Habele Outer Island Education Fund, a nonprofit established by former Peace Corps who served in Micronesia. Since 2006, Habele has provided direct support to students, schools and communities across the FSM through book donations, tuition scholarships, high school robotics and the support of traditional mentorship programs.