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Cook Islands' quilting tradition

August 3, 2010


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Clement Paligaru: These beautiful quilts or tivaevae are among some of the most stunning creations you can find in the Cook Islands. They're treasured by families because of the many hours of work they can take to make. But they also play a special role for groups of women around the country. In the Cook Islands capital Rarotonga, this group of women meets once a week to quilt.

Mama Parau Taruia, tivaevae artist: This is our only free day where we could get together, meet each other, encourage each other for what we do.

Mereani Tagata, tivaevae artist: Very nice to socialise with the group around the area.

Clement Paligaru: The tivaevae range includes cushions, pillows and bedspreads.

Mama Parau Taruia: So when we have birthdays or anniversaries, you name it, weddings, we give it away as gifts.

Clement Paligaru: For Cook Islanders, tivaevae aren't ordinary gifts. Many are considered family heirlooms.

Mama Parau Taruia: This is owned by my mother you know. She did this when she was only nineteen. This is the only thing my mother owned that I kept.

Clement Paligaru: Quilting was introduced to Cook Islands by missionaries. The skills were then passed down through generations.

Mama Parau Taruia: A good tivaevae would look like the exact pattern you have drawn. If you have drawn a hibiscus - it should turn out to look like a hibiscus. Any flower that people have grown in their garden - they see it bloom every day. They know what it's like, that's what they design.

Clement Paligaru: In the world of tivaevae, Mama Parau is highly respected for her skills and knowledge.

So how long does it take to cut out these patterns?

Mama Parau Taruia: It would take long maybe eight hours a day.

Clement Paligaru: But that's for you.

Mama Parau Taruia: That's for me. Ah yes. That's right. But being a group, we have to teach each other.

Merani Tagata: It's more enjoyable. You share each other's skills, different stitches because you know Mama Parau is got more knowledgeable than us.

Clement Paligaru: But there's also concern among the women that the tivaevae tradition may not be around for too long, unless there's more interest in the craft.

Mereani Tagata: I think it's very important we continue the tradition otherwise it will be lost.

Mama Parau Taruia: It used to be that every household - you know the mothers and the daughters, grown up daughters will participate in making tivaevae. But today, it is a changed time. This generation would rather do their own thing.

Clement Paligaru: Among the young are Mama Parau's own family members.

Maeva Henry, Mama Parau's daughter: I don't have the patience and time because tivaevae is a hard thing to do. You have to have to be an artist to be able to draw the design that you want. And there are ladies like my mother who knows how to embroider and bring out those beautiful colours, whereas I don't have that talent.

Mama Parau: It's sad really when I come to think because they're going to lose the art.

Clement Paligaru: But recently, Mama Parau and her group's been joined by one new member who's young, keen and committed.

Ina Bishop, tivaevae artist: In the Cook Islands, tivaevae is very important in the family and I would like to continue that - pick up from a mama and carry on.

It's just the value in it, the feeling in it. It's like a story - telling a story of your life and your ancestors.

Mama Parau: I am so thankful that Ina now learned the art within a year - oh boy look at what Ina does now.

Ina Bishop: It's very special when you get into a group because it encourages you to finish your one. Because if you see a Mama nearly finish with their tivaevae, you would like to beat her.

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