An average mat may take up to two weeks to finish.
One of the places you simply must visit on your Fijian holiday is the local handicraft market. The obvious benefit is being able to buy local art and craft at much cheaper prices compared to handicraft stores.
But there is another reason why you should do so. Visiting a local market is a chance to interact with local craftspeople and watch them at work.
You will get a better understanding of how local handicraft is made and craftspeople will happily answer any questions you may have about the materials and processes.
Suva’s handicraft market is located behind the Central Post Office while the one in Nadi is a short walk from the fresh food market in the centre of town.
At both markets, you will find Fiji’s two major races, indigenous Fijians and Indians sharing stalls side by side. These people, who come from various parts of Fiji, specialise in different craft depending on the area they are from.
Take the case of Leba Waqanisau, who hails from the island of Nayau in the Lau Group. She moved to Suva in 1960 to be close to her parents, who had resettled in Suva and decided to stay.
Leba, now in her 60s, has been making and selling handicraft for the past 36 years and has held a stall, No. 18 at the Suva Handicraft Centre for a good number of those years.
When I visited her, she was making pink rosettes out of vau, a rough paper like material that is made from the bark of a local tree. Vau bark is usually stripped and soaked in water for four weeks, before being flattened through beating. It is used in salusalu (traditional garlands), skirts and rosettes.
I saw Leba take a small piece of pink vau, make small circles out of it and deftly tie it together to make a perfect little rosette. It would be used to decorate some woven girl’s slippers she told me. Leba also weaves mats and makes tapa (the traditional cloth made from the bark of the mulberry tree).
These are skills she learnt growing up in her village on Nayau, where young girls would sit alongside women and imitate what they were doing. “We learnt by watching what they were doing, no one really taught us,” she says.
The younger generation is losing interest in the traditional crafts, says Leba. “You have to keep doing it to maintain it.”
One of the things that deter many young people from entering the handicraft industry is the relatively low returns for what is labour intensive and.time consuming work. Take a woven mat for example.
An average mat may take up to two weeks to finish and sells for only $25 - $35, a steal if you consider the amount of time and effort that goes into making it.
By visiting and buying directly from craftspeople, you are helping support the local craft scene.
It also means a greater portion of the sale goes directly into their pockets, as opposed to buying it from big handicraft stores where craftspeople are forced to sell their wares at cheaper prices.
So pay a visit to the local handicraft centres on your next visit to Fiji, you’ll no doubt take back stories of how those special holiday mementos were made.