The Ba Experience – jewellery workshop in Fiji

Ilse-Marie Erl with her team in Fiji

Ilse-Marie Erl with her team in Fiji

Currently I am working as a private consultant for The Value Chain Analytical Group PARDI-ACIAR of the University of Adelaide. In short I am on a research project in Ba, a little town far off the tourist trail in the north of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, for all together 7 weeks. I am up skilling a group of 10 women and one man in the handling of mother of pearl to produce souvenir and jewellery items using the side product of the famous Hunter Pearls from Savusavu, Vanua Levu. The group is part of the Ba Women’s Forum, an umbrella for some of the many women’s clubs operating in every village here and calls itself WoW (women of work/ worth). The ladies are mature women who are trying to gain skills and knowledge that might help them setting up a sustainable cottage industry with the prestigious ‘Fiji made’ accreditation.

My assignment is to set up a professional shell working workshop with wonderful top of the range equipment (without going green with envy) that has been funded by the Universities of Adelaide and Suva. Further I am translating mass produced neck pieces from Bali into local designs. Little do we tourists know that most of the souvenir items sold in shops or by locals at the beaches are actually made in Southeast Asia. Part of the outcome of this exercise is intended for Robert Kennedy, a fashion designer from Sigatoka who will present his fashion range and our neck wear end of May at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva. In addition I have to design a production line to be sold at the ubiquitous Tappoo department stores. The ideal is to leave the group with the skills required to keep designing, producing and promoting their authentic and indigenous mop jewellery.

Quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control…

Quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control…

My challenges are many and remember I am NOT sitting at a beach sipping nice drinks. Ever heard of Fiji time? Fun when on holiday, not so fun when working within a very tight time frame. Ever contemplated the complexities of aid projects? Extremely complicated and at times very frustrating. However, it is a fantastic experience, the wonderful people, the multicultural aspects of Fiji, the awesome food (think spicy Indian), and walking home tired from a days hard work (yes, hard work) up the hill past a lush green tropical scenery to my charming Filipino guest family, hearing a muezzin calling from a mosque, some Hindu chanting in a temple and gospel singing in a church, all within a few hundred meters. Sounds like heaven to me. And it is warm, always.

Clay beads and vau have arrived from Natunuku village.

Clay Beads from Natunuku Village

Just outside the village of Natunuku in the province of Ba, is the special place to collect black clay for making beads. The clay gets sifted through to remove all stones and grit. Water in which cassava (an edible starchy tuberous root) has been boiled and some sand are mixed thoroughly into the matter to make the soft clay firmer. White sand from the beach is used first but to make sure the clay retains its black colour sand from the muddy black mangrove area of the sea is added later on. This mixing in of sand and cassava water is continued till the clay has the right consistency. To check a roll of clay is formed and wrapped around a finger. If the roll does not break the clay is ready to be used. It now has a smooth and almost oily consistency. The beads need to dry in the sun for 1-2 days. Then they are put on the ground and a fire is build over them using mangrove wood. For black coloured beads the firing time is 2 hours and for brown coloured ones it is 4-6 hours. After firing the beads are lightly varnished.

During the time it takes to make these beads the women are not allowed to have sex. Women who are menstruating are not allowed to make beads. These restrictions are called tabu and are still in place today.

 

Voivoi cord made by Kini

Voivoi is the fibre of the long, sharp blade-like leaves of the pandanus plant. First these leaves are boiled and then laid out to dry in the sun. Once dry the wrinkled leaves need to be smoothed out by pulling them back and forth over a metal rod or file. Now they are ready to be cut into thin strips to be used for weaving. Voivoi is sold in rolls at the markets in its natural colour and in black. Black voivoi is made by boiling the material in a leaf from a little shrub. Almost every Fijian home features hand woven voivoi mats. Kini from our group is using the fibre to weave the cords for our neckpieces.

Urmilla is modelling a Paddle sample of the production line

Urmilla is modelling a Paddle sample of the production line

Naz is modelling a sample of the Triangle range

Naz is modelling a sample of the Triangle range

Sai is modelling a sample of the Banana Boat range

Sai is modelling a sample of the Banana Boat range

Sisi is modelling a sample of the Vula (moon) range

Sisi is modelling a sample of the Vula (moon) range

Bula, WoW Ba proudly presents a sneak preview of some of our pieces for the Robert Kennedy range for Fiji Fashion Week in Suva end of May. These are our ingredients plus mother of pearl and a lot of work and patience:

Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva

Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva

Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva

Samples of the Robert Kennedy range and our work at the Fiji Fashion Show in Suva

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