Spirit of Vanuatu: The Woven Club

By MiNDFOOD

The Woven Club has been a source of inspiration for many
The Woven Club has been a source of inspiration for many
The women of Malo Island in Vanuatu have formed the Woven Club, where close bonds are forged alongside unique traditional handicrafts.

When Cyclone Harold tore through Vanuatu in April 2020, it left communities reeling from the destruction. Just two weeks earlier, the borders had shut due to the pandemic, and after the devastation caused by the Category 5 tropical cyclone, many people in Vanuatu saw their homes destroyed, food sources cut off and a lack of international aid due to the border closures. It was in the wake of this natural disaster that the idea for The Woven Club was born.

In 2021, with borders still shut and no international tourists to boost the local economy, many Ni-Vanuatu were still struggling to bounce back from the impact of the cyclone.

“This community project was born to help the mamas of the villages make enough money to send their children back to school, to feed their families and to help put a roof over their heads,” says Montana Gray, whose family owns and operates the Aore Island Resort in Espiritu Santo, in Sanma province. “Art and craft in Vanuatu is a rich part of the native culture and contrasts from island to island. Having refined their skills over generations, our beautiful weaving mamas are practised at weaving bags, baskets and mats from coconut and pandanus leaves.”

Every Tuesday and Thursday the women of the small island of Malo gather together to weave, laughing and singing as they craft everything from baskets and hats, to lampshades and floor mats. Starting with 30 local mothers, The Woven Club sold over 300 products in its first collection to the Australian market, which enabled them to expand the weaving team to 60.

“One of our new weavers is a retired teacher, and in our last meeting she pulled me aside and started bawling her eyes out. I said, ‘What’s wrong?!’ She said she saw her product on our social media and she couldn’t believe all the nice comments she was receiving, and she was so touched. She said her life is now changed forever,” says Gray.

An integral part of the project has been the opportunity to develop the women’s business skills. “We all know that South Pacific ladies have beautifully weaving talents passed down to them through generations, but to see their products being sold on an international level at fair trade prices has been incredible,” says Gray.

“The money that the community has made is also life changing. The women are now able to feed their families, most of them have done work on their houses and just being able to be financially independent as a woman in Vanuatu is absolutely game changing!

“It’s also amazing to see the mamas’ bond strengthen out of mutual respect for their craft and the realisation of pro table empowerment. The mamas have started dispersing the message throughout their villages that locally made handicrafts hold significance and can be equally sustainable and pro table.”

Their vision for the future is to build their own craft and community centre on Malo, where they can continue their crafting work and, once international borders are open, welcome tourists to weaving classes where they can learn the tradition of drying pandanus, hear first-hand the history of weaving and make their own woven handicrafts.

Visitors staying at the Aore Island Resort will also be able to purchase The Woven Club’s products at the resort.

The Woven Club is one of many enriching experiences to discover in Vanuatu.

To plan your holiday, visit vanuatu.travel

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