Friday, July 11, 2008


Visits to the museum would leave many in awe especially witnessing the many traditional and cultural materials in Fiji. One of the most popular handicrafts with traditional significance is tapa making and designs.
The person responsible for promoting this artistic work is Selai Buasala (pictured).
She is part of the Fiji delegation to the 10th Festival of Pacific Arts in Pagopago, American Samoa at the end of the month.
During the 10-day event, Selai will showcase her notable tapa designs to talented artists from around the Pacific.
However, the art of tapa making and designing is not easy. Selai had to learn traditional tapa designs when she was a little girl.
Born and bred in Nasau Village on Moce Island, Selai is the youngest of five children. Her parents were Ilaisa and Atelaite Vakaloloma.
Growing up on the island was simple especially when access to food sources was efficient.
"Life in the village was good. Food was easy to get and most of the time we helped our parents with the workload. My mother made traditional tapa designs and we had a tapa plantation nearby.
"As a child, I remember going to the plantation to pull out weeds. This was a chore done every Monday. We use the bark of a tree to make masi or the tapa. Basically, tapa is a cloth made from the bark of the tree after continuous beating and drying."
She attended primary school at Moce District before coming to Suva where she continued her secondary education at Ballantine Memorial.
Selai was used to having her parents around and left school at the beginning of Form Four.
She returned to the island where she continued to help to help her mother with masi making.
Spending time with her mother, Selai was able to make and design her own tapa.
"When we finished with our designs, we would sell these to the co-op shop which would then bring it to Suva to sell. Tapa making is easy money and this is something I am proud of.
"The prints on the tapa I make are traditional designs I learnt from my mother back on the island. There are different designs which mean different things. Usually, one has to beat the tapa, dry it and then print the designs."
She returned to Suva at the age of 18 where she lived with her sister.
Selai spent her time looking after the children and painting her designs on vanguard sheets to sell.
She said tapa was not available at the time and she had to make do with vanguard sheets.
She later returned to her place of birth and took up tapa making full time. In 2001, she moved back to Suva and set up a home in Korova settlement in Nasese.
Since then, she has continued to beat, dry and paint her tapa designs for a living. Her hard work, dedication and perseverance to support her family paid off when she was awarded Artistic Excellence in The Masi Category.
"This event was organised by the Fiji Arts Council during an Art Exhibition in February this year. I was very happy and honoured by the award because I knew my talent was being recognised.
"Whenever I finish a design, I feel proud of where I come from. It is a good feeling knowing that part of your culture and tradition is shown in something you make. That is why I am proud of what I do." This recognition gave her the opportunity to take part in the festival as well as to showcase her designs to other Pacific Islanders.
The mother of eight children never anticipated the opportunity to be part of a regional event.
Although this would be her first time to travel abroad, Selai is looking forward to meeting and learning different cultures and traditions.
"I am hoping to meet and talk to other designers about tapa designs. It would be interesting to know about the different designs in different countries. I am very excited about the trip and I know it will be an eye opener for me," she said.
"My advice for people would be to work hard at your passion. In terms of tapa making, it is important to teach the younger generation this art and craft. It will help them value their culture and traditions." The delegation will leave on the 17th of this month but the Festival of Pacific Arts will start from July 20 to August 2.