Preserving history, earning money

Expert weaver Susan Jieta makes mats and other handicrafts, sharing her knowledge with younger women, at the College of the Marshall Islands. Photo: Eve Burns.

EVE BURNS

Expert weaver Susan Jieta, 52, was interested in weaving from an early age.

“I started learning how weave when I was in seventh grade,” she said. “My mom weaved and each time she left her weaving I’d run and practice.”

Susan is from Mejit Island. “Marshallese handicrafts were always something I liked to do,” she added. Susan first learned how to weave a Maloelap mat. Years later, she moved on to learn the Marshallese fine weaving style known as Jaki-ed. This started in 2002 when she attended a workshop hosted by Women United Together Marshall Islands after hearing about it on the radio and she thought to herself she should give it a try. “It was the first time I heard the word Jaki-ed,” she said.

Jaki-ed is a technique historically employed to make mats that were worn by Marshallese people prior to colonization. They are made from pandanus and bordered with intricate geometric designs. Dress mats express value and status and tell stories of ancestors, nation and community.

Susan worked at University of the South Pacific (USP) as a weaver and trainer and moved to College of the Marshall Islands with the same position. She has travelled off island to give presentations and demonstration on the jaki-ed and taught other Marshallese young women the art. Susan believe that this is a skill that girls in the Marshall Islands should learn because it helps in terms of income.

Susan started doing jaki-ed design by copying and practicing making the design from mats that were in museums. She was helped at the outset of her jaki-ed weaving by Tamara Greenstone Alefaio, who previously worked at the USP Campus in Majuro, and provided her with photos of jaki-ed that are located at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii and elsewhere.

Fun fact about Susan is that she helped weave the first ever Miss Marshall Islands Billma Peter’s jaki-ed dress and other accessories.

Her goal is to see more young women taking an interest in weaving. Although she understands that it is not easy, she’s working towards it by helping others learn the skill.

Susan said that weaving a jaki-ed takes about a month but the result is rewarding. A jaki-ed often sells for $150.

She also pointed out that for many years, there has been an auction for jaki-eds in September and that’s when so many women from different islands bring their beautiful woven jaki-ed mats to showcase and sell. Her advice to younger generation is, “don’t disregard our culture, especially our jaki-ed, because that’s our clothes.”

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