Women in Business Development started working with weavers 17 years ago to revive the traditional Samoan finemat, which was nearly lost due to the commercialisation of our culture. When we started trying to locate expert weavers, our findings were sad and quite unbelievable. At the time, 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. The origins of the first fine mat ever woven trace back through generations of oral history and legend to the village of Lefutu in Tutuila, American Samoa and follows a 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 prior to weaving.
In the olden days, weavers and matai (chiefs) all understood 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.
Opon finding Velealava Vaepae, a master weaver from Manono, we convinced her to work with us to revive the Samoan tradition of weaving ie sae. 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 is easier to weave but does not look or feel as the real ie sae should feel.
Ie Sae are still highly prized in Samoan and Tongan culture today 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 chiefly titles.