Wednesday, December 13, 2006

One of the traditional crafts that has been handed down on Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands is the art of plaiting. Both plaiting and weaving, using traditional and local materials, are skills that have provided the peoples of Polynesia and Melanesia with the means to create both useful and decorative items such as baskets, mats and hats.

Norfolk Island is no exception, and the skills of plaiting have been handed down from generation to generation. Traditionally, the most common items produced are hats, but other articles are made too. Materials most commonly used here include moo-oo (flax), ra-hoo-loo(banana bark) and corn husk.

Dianne Buffett learned plaiting skills from an older relative, Mrs Mary Joe Nobbs, as a young girl, and has gone on to produce many beautiful items. Now she has decided to record some of the history and techniques in a beautiful book called "Plaiting in Paradise." It is a book that truly conveys Dianne's passion for this part of Norfolk's culture.

On Sunday afternoon, a large crowd of Norfolkers gathered on Dianne's lawn for the launching of her book. It was a glorious afternoon, and the afternoon tea was elegantly served in the marquee, and was much enjoyed as everyone chatted and enjoyed the lovely setting.

Dianne's younger daughter Levina took charge of the proceedings, which was fitting, because she was responsible for the beautiful artwork and graphic design in producing the publication. Di's brother David performed the task of actually launching the book, cutting the pink "ribbon" around the special copy.

There were long queues to purchase copies of the book, and to have Di sign them. Each book came with a very special plaited bookmark. I believe there will be copies in many a Christmas stocking this Christmas!

The book not only covers the different types of plait, including the one known as the "Norfolk plait", but describes the gathering and the preparation of the materials, and the steps involved in sewing the plait into a hat or some other item.

Interestingly, this traditional women's skill has been taken up by today by a generation of younger men. They have taken the craft in new directions, exploring different media, forms and embellishments. They are true artisans, and I know the older women are delighted to see their skills and craft being kept alive in this way. It is hoped that Dianne's book, with its clear diagrams, will inspire many other young people to take up and develop these important cultural traditions.

I cannot resist showing a few pictures of Norfolkers enjoying the ambience of the occasion.

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