Saturday, August 25, 2007


SEVERAL years ago, after the coup in 2000, Kesaia Vakaola made her way to Suva to fend for her children's education.
Since then, it has not been easy for the mother of three but she is coping well enough, after banking on skills she acquired at an early age while growing up in her village on Moce in Lau.
Vakaola, 39, is among the limited number of women in the country who are adept at making masi, the traditional Fijian cloth produced from the bark of the mulberry tree.
The Fiji Times met her as she taught other women the skills at the Veiqaravi ecumenical community training centre at New Town, Nasinu.
The consistent thudding of wood against wood was the only sound that emerged from this urban setting, as women concentrated on their individual tapa pieces.
Beating the bark of the mulberry tree is probably the most integral part of the whole tapa making process which takes about three to five days at best.
The activities provided at the centre are aimed at empowering women through acquired skills and also giving them some spiritual guidance.
The facility is supported by ecumenical partners which include the Methodist Church of Fiji, the Anglican Church and the Seventh Day Adventist Church of Fiji.
"I like doing what I do very much. It was what I learnt on Moce when I was small and I'm glad I have been able to pass it on to others for their benefit,'' said Vakaola.
"I have been making good money from tapa, roughly about $130 a week from the sales.''
Vakaola said as a small girl growing up in her village of Korotolu, she picked up the skill from elder women.
"I used to see my grandmother, mother and aunties beating (tapa) every morning until the afternoon."
The Lauan native said she usually derived much of the mulberry bark from the village of Viwa in Yasawa, where they grow prominently.
The Veiqaravi training centre is encouraging the trainees to plant their own mulberry trees in their backyard or garden.
It is considered a good investment because it is usually six months or more before the bark can been harvested, which is a relatively short time for a good cash crop, according to Vakaola.
The trainees have also been taught how to boil the bark of the dogo or mangrove plant to make the dye used to paint tapa.
Vakaola said initially life in Suva was hard but with her tapa business, she was learning to make ends meet and help support her family and elderly parents.
"My eldest daughter is in Form Six, one son in Class One and one in Class Six.
"With the money I make I manage to pay for their education."
Vakaola said most of her clients usually placed their orders with her but if they are not enough, she takes her wares to sell at the Suva flea market.
She said tapa making was not easy to teach but said she found it easy to achieve because of her apprenticeship at home.
"It is hard work but luckily it comes easy for me. I can have a big piece ready in just three days.
"I'm glad I have these skills because it has allowed me to provide an income for my family.
"My advice to young women out there is whatever they can do with their hands, they can support themselves or their families with."
Vakaola is a good example of how individuals without much of an education, can rely on skills such as tapa making as a means to financial independence.
But, as in any other work, she said it was important that commitment and dedication were part of the effort to bring out the best in the results or handiworks.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online