One of the most commonly used items in Fijian traditional culture is the “grass mat.” It is woven by hand from pandanus leaves. The long process of preparation includes scraping and boiling the leaves, and drying them in the sun. There are different mats used for different occasions, and some are made as gifts for formal occasions such as weddings. The pandanus leaves are gathered in large numbers and stored in bundles in the houses to dry out. The patterns for utilitarian mats such as walls or floors are relatively simple because the mats are so large. But on smaller items the patterns are detailed and very artistic.The leaves are gathered and the spiny edges are stripped from the leaves which are then dried. The dried leaves are split into long parallel strands but leaving one end whole so the strips are attached across the leaf. This makes it possible to handle a number of strands at the same time layering alternate strands in handfuls. Once the strands are split they are lined up in a criss-cross pattern and the weaving begins. The pandanas leaves are naturally slightly different shades and the ladies make sure to arrange them in a pleasing pattern as they go.
Once the leaves have been lined up they are separated alternately and held in one hand while the other hand sweeps through and pushes down every other strand.
Now that the strands have all been separated they are carefully lined up opposite each other so that the leaves coming from a 90 degree angle can be interwoven one-by-one with each alternating strand.
Nimble fingers pull the strands together in a rough pattern to begin with. Then the strands of leaves are tightly pulled into place and held there as the next one is interwoven. The closeness of the pattern seems much finer than the materials used to create it. This is the result of applying just the right amount of tension. The strands are doubled back to develop a thicker mat and more complex locking mechanism so the weave doesn’t spread. At each step the weaver needs to take care not to break the strand of dried leaf.
The mat is flipped over and back each time so the leaf is locked into place. Finally the mat edges are locked off with a special weave or in some cases with a heavy thread.
Most mats are bordered with highly decorative and brightly coloured wool. One well-known Fijian mat is the kuta, made by women in Vanua Levu, particularly Bua.