On view through Aug. 9, Shifting Values of Plaited Power highlights the weaving traditions of the Pacific with skillfully crafted mats from the museum’s collection. One highlight are the three ‘ie toga (fine mats) from Sāmoa. Although they’ve been in the collection for decades (we suspect the mat on the right was acquired in the 1920s!) the three mats have never before been shown at the museum.

Textiles curator Sara Oka wrote this about the mats:

An ʻie tōga is a finely woven mat that held the highest cultural value in the Sāmoa. Traditionally made only by women, these mats form an integral part of their role and identity within their community. In English, we refer to them as ‘fine mats’ because they are woven of the thinly sliced leaves. These are never used as sitting mats.  The ends are generally finished with an unwoven fringe and a strip of red feathers from the collared lory from Fiji called “sega.” Modern examples use dyed chicken feathers or even colored yarn.

A collared lory

A collared lory

These mats are exchanged and presented at weddings and funerals, matai chief title bestowals, and at special occasions such as the blessing of a newly built fale (house) or the opening of a new church. ʻIe tōga are sometimes worn on special occasions, around the waist, similar to a lavalava (a cloth that wraps). At funerals, ʻie tōga are given to the family of the deceased and gifts of ʻie toga, plus food are given in return. These exchanges display a mutual respect that enforced family (ʻaiga) ties. In this way, ʻie tōga are passed down from family to family, sometimes for many years and are greatly valued. Historically, some ʻie tōga were so valuable they were given their own names. The process of making an ʻie tōga could take months or even years to create. The completion of an ʻie tōga often involves a public celebration and presentation with the women parading and displaying their fine mats for all to see.

Pictured left to right:

ʻIe Toga (fine mat)
Sāmoa, ca. 1900
Pandanus (Pandanus tectorius), collared lory (Phigys solitarius) feathers, plaiting
Gift of Miss Wilhelmina Ahrens, 1945 (328.1)

ʻIe Toga (fine mat)
Sāmoa, Tutuila, late 19th century
Pandanus (Pandanus tectorius), collared lory (Phigys solitarius) feathers, fabric ribbon, plaiting
Gift of Mrs. Walter Fraine, 1969 (3608.1)

ʻIe Toga (fine mat)
Sāmoa, late 19th century-early 20th century
Pandanus (Pandanus tectorius), collared lory (Phigys solitarius) feathers, plaiting
Source Unknown (2078)