The Vanuatu Daily Post recently ran an interesting article written by Len Garae about how the ash fall from the erupting volcano on the island of Ambae was compromising the handicraft industry in Vanuatu.
The current impact of Ambae’s devastating volcanic ash fall has wiped out all pandanus leaves on the island and is currently threatening the supply of the island’s unique basket and red and white mats as well as the handicraft industry in Port Vila.
In fact Pentecost, the country’s largest supplier of baskets and treasured red mat, looks set to reduce its supplies due to the same threat of volcanic ash fall especially on North Pentecost which is closest to Ambae.
This was announced by the Manager of the Haos Blong Handikraf and Mahitahi Haos Roy Pakoasongi. To prove his concern, he points to the current supplies of baskets and mats from Ambae and Pentecost which he says are already running low with no sign of new supplies to replenish the existing stocks.
To confirm the Manager’s prediction, Ambae supplier of its unique basket and red and white mats, Esline Aru explains, “Yes, these are my last supply of baskets and mats because my network on North Ambae has been severed by the Manaro volcanic ash fall. “The weavers with their unique skills to weave the popular, robust basket and red and white mats are being relocated to either Santo or Maewo and no longer have any pandanus leaves to weave their baskets and mats to sell to me,” she said.
Asked whether they can use pandanus leaves from Santo or Maewo to weave, she replies that it is an alternative but that the quality of pandanus leaves grown on Ambae is most suitable for use to weave the particular porous basket. “I am appealing to you Ambae weavers and your husbands to start to plant the same pandanus seedlings wherever you relocate to, to keep the industry alive”, she said.
To replenish the current stocks of different baskets and red and white mats in Port Vila from Ambae and Pentecost, both the Manager and supplier are encouraging weavers to buy pandanus leaves from other islands from which to weave their baskets and mats.
In popular literature Ambae was the island that inspired American novelist James Michener to create the idyllic, fictional island, Bali Hai in his book Tales of the South Pacific. This would gain even greater notoriety in the Broadway Play, South Pacific. During World War II Michener was stationed on the island of Espiritu Santo and he could see the mysterious island of Ambae looming on the horizon.