Women in Business Development started working with weavers 17 years ago to revive the traditional Samoan finemat, which was lost due to the commercialisation of our culture. When we started trying to locate expert weavers, our findings were sad and quite unbelievable, only four villages were still processing ie sae, and these were also not the fine stripped ie sae.
Ie sae are very soft, finely woven, traditional Samoan fine mats. The Ie sae has a special place in Samoan culture and heritage with the origins of the first fine mat ever woven traced back through generations of oral history and legend to the village of Lefutu in Tutuila, American Samoa and follows its dramatic story through its journey to the Kingdom of Tonga and again back to Amoa in Savaii.
When kept for many years, the very finely woven ie sae resembles a piece of fabric almost the quality of fine silk. Their softness is ensured by only using leaves from a particular species of pandanus, and by the special treatment process used on the leaves before they are used for weaving.
In the old days, weavers and matai all understood that the ie Samoa quality was important, and that the art of preparation and weaving of this artifact was the reason it was recognised so in our culture.
On finding Velealava Vaepae, a master weaver from Manono, we convinced her to work with us on this very important project. With very little funding and resources, we toured with this remarkable lady all over Samoa. It was not easy work, as many women were comfortable weaving the ie malo (hard mat), which was easier to weaver but did not look or feel like the real ie sae should feel.
Ie Sae are still today highly prized in Samoan and Tongan culture and are used for traditional exchange and gift giving as part of important ceremonies and rites of passage such as weddings, funerals and in the investiture of chielfy titles.