Nannette Bani’s family has been weaving for generations. It is an art form that is mostly appreciated by tourists, who are the bulk consumers of traditional products. But weaving is not just decorative and useful – it is also a way to preserve Vanuatu’s culture. Nannette gives us insight into how weaving plays an important role in her life.
I was born and raised in Pentecost but have been living in Port Vila for more than 20 years. When I was 10 years old, my mother and sister taught me how to weave. When I got married and had kids, we came to Port Vila. I could see that life was very different here. Although my husband was working, I knew that if we wanted a good future, I needed to work too.
First I started to sell calico and dresses at the Vanuatu Handicrafts Market, but then I remembered the weaving skills my mother taught me. I started to weave baskets from pandanus and coconut. I could see that weaving was making more money than calico. Tourists were more interested in buying them than locals.
I was able to put all four of my children through school and USP through the money I made with weaving. Now they all have successful jobs and they also know how to weave, even my two boys. When they were growing up, I made sure all the kids would help me. It’s important they have those skills as weaving is an art form and most importantly, it’s part of our Ni-Vanuatu identity.
Although my girls have office jobs in the government and bank, I want them to know how important it is to do traditional jobs like weaving, gardening, sewing, cleaning and cooking, as that’s how we preserve our culture. I have also shared my weaving skills in Australia through AusAid. I had the opportunity to teach a generation of black birders in 2004 the basic skills of weaving, and even went back a few times to do so. They were black like me but spoke like a white man. It was a wonderful opportunity. I have also been to New Zealand and New Caledonia to showcase my weaving during the tradeshows.
I make a lot of things – hats, different kinds of bags, fruit bowls, baskets and placemats. It can take between 3 days to a week to make these products. I believe they are not only great quality, but also long lasting due to the material. They are very useful and can be used as an everyday item or you can display them for decorative purposes. They make great gifts and it supports the local community – everything is from and made in Vanuatu. You can also give them to family and friends overseas, as it’s safe for quarantine.
If you want to weave, you need patience. It’s not something easy. But I want young women to know that there is money in weaving and that it allows us to preserve our culture. I have seen in other countries like NZ that they hold workshops that teach weaving. The Maoris make their own style and they have the funds to encourage them to explore different textiles and designs. It would be nice if we had the funds available to us so we can provide workshops and to teach the future generation to embrace weaving. This is how we keep Vanuatu’s culture alive.
Nannette’s weaving products can be bought at the Vanuatu Handicrafts Market opposite BSP Bank.