Weaver at 15

Akanisi Taito with her Rotuman mat on display during the recent Women’s Expo in Suva. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

AT the age of 15, Akanisi Taito of Tuakoi Village in Rotuma left school to help her mum look after her four siblings.

Now 75, Akanisi looks back and remembers the good old days living on Rotuma and learning the fundamentals of life on a small island that has given her great pride in her tradition.

It was on Rotuma that Akanisi learnt to provide for herself and her family and it was through the art of weaving that she was able to put food on the table, all at a young age.

“I remember when I was just 10 when our father had left us to go to Makogai Island and our mum had to play the role of father and mother to her four children,” she said.

“It was hard at first but my mother was a strong woman capable of looking after her four children on her own.

“At the age of 15, I had to leave school to help my mother at home because I felt the burden was too much to handle on her own and I wanted to help her as much as I could.”

Akanisi said lucky for her she had learnt the basics of weaving mats at the Rotuman Catholic Mission (Sumi Station) when she was a boarding student.

“We had an elderly Rotuman woman who used to teach us how to weave at the Catholic mission,” she said.

“We not only learnt how to weave Rotuman mats, we also learnt to create fans which we could use at home or to sell on the island.”

She said her mother simply perfected the art for her by adding some more techniques of traditional weaving especially how to weave big Rotuman white mats called Apei.

“Mum had taught me how to weave, she looked after us and we had to help her with everyday responsibilities at home and to the community,” she said.

“Weaving has provided for our needs at home and life on the island but now it’s not as similar to the past where young children helped out in family responsibilities and loved doing it.

“Before, children on the island worked hard as well to help their parents make a living for themselves especially helping out in buying simple things like food and soap.”

Akanisi said a lot had changed but it’s good that her children had been able to care for their own families.

“Now my children have their own families and they can take care of themselves. I get to enjoy free time travelling to family in Australia, Fiji and New Caledonia,” she said.

“Now I don’t weave as much as I would like to. I can weave only smaller mats compared with the big ones I used to weave before. A big mat usually takes one year or seven months to make depending on how a weaver prioritises her weaving.

“If you’re an experienced weaver you can make a big apei (white mat) in seven months but it would take longer if you’re new to Rotuman weaving methods.”

Akanisi said she hasn’t had the chance to teach anyone because not a lot of people are keen to learn about it.

“I hope more young Rotuman women and men show an interest in Rotuman weaving methods so its traditions live on for many years,” she said.

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