The Marshall Islands has a new museum dedicated to the finely woven mats known as jaki-ed. Admission is free and its opening hours are seven days a week, 24 hours a day. That’s because it’s a virtual museum found on the Internet.The museum is an imaginary place designed to showcase the historic and contemporary mats of the Marshalls. In this wondrous world, you can ’stroll’ through rooms full of historic mats in Britain or Germany, relax in the cinema as you watch a ‘Majuro Productions’ show, or go shopping in the museum store. The museum, found at www.clothingmatsofthemarshalls.com, is the result of many years of work that had its beginnings in 2004 when Maria Fowler, the daughter of Iroij and President Amata Kabua, was in Hawaii with her daughter.
“I met with my old friend MaryLou Foley and she took me to the Bishop Museum. It was my first time there and MaryLou introduced me to Betty Kam, who took us to the back of the museum to see the mats,” Maria said.
“That’s when I saw the historic jaki-ed for the first time. I nearly cried. There were over 10 mats and while I was looking at them and seeing how beautiful they were, I thought to myself that we really need to revive this skill.”
Maria went to back to Majuro full of ideas. At the time she was working with the Director of the University of the South Pacific’s Majuro campus, Dr. Irene Taafaki on compiling a book of traditional Marshallese medicine (Traditional Medicine of the Marshall Islands: The Women, the Plants, the Treatments by Irene J. Taafaki, Maria Kabua Fowler , and Randolph R. Thaman, IPS Publications).
“I talked to Irene about the mats, explaining their importance. Then, a few years later, both of us were in Hawaii to launch the medicine book and so we both went to the Bishop to see the mats. It was really exciting.”
The pair began to think of how they may revive the art of weaving the jaki-ed. But first Maria knew they were going to need someone to be a patron of a project of this nature. “It so happened that Iroij Michael, my uncle, is really into reviving the culture. We went to see him and he said: ‘It’s about time that someone is interested in the culture!’”
Bill Weza, the late general manager of the Marshall Islands Resort, was also very interested in the project. “We soon had a group of people working on ideas.”
These included Hawaii’s Caroline Yacoe, who has close ties with the Bishop Museum, and the museum’s Betty Kam. “We got permission from the Bishop Museum to bring back photos of their jaki-ed,” Maria said. “Our next step was to contact WUTMI, which was having a genera l assembly. I knew a master weaver from Ujae called Tibonieng Samuel who was still weaving. We also contacted Patsy Hermon from Namdrik whom I had heard was an expert weaver.
“At the WUTMI assembly, Tibonieng gave our first workshop on jaki-ed. She showed the ladies the process of pounding the maan (dried pandanus leaf) and the basic weaving steps.”
From that humble beginning, Maria and Irene went on to hold weaving workshops and also an exhibition and auction of jaki-ed, now held every year at the Marshall Islands Resort to coincide with Culture Day. In recent years there have been apprenticeships around the country in which many dozens of young women have learned how to make the finely-woven clothing mats.
These trainings were sponsored by the RMI National Training Council, while the Australian Government has supported the creation of the virtual museum.
With the help of these and many other organizations and individuals, the art of making jaki-ed has been revived and you can see the old and the new in the Marshall’s new museum. Stop by today and enjoy!
- Karen Earnshaw, Majuro, Marshall Islands, to Yokwe.net, August 29, 2013