In keeping with the American theme of “State of the” addresses, I’m writing a post about the “State of Art” in Pentecost.
There is some beautiful art available in the form of woven goods. Pentecost specializes in baskets, but everywhere in Vanuatu makes mats. They weave them out of pandanus leaves. The tree looks like something from Dr. Seuss. The leaves are either light brown or white, depending on how they are prepared. The white ones can be “painted” or dyed with store-bought dyes that have a nice range of colors. The matts are usually a variation simple weaving themes with just a few stripes of color.
The baskets can be made into just about any pattern by a skilled weaver. My bubu (granny) can weave the Vanuatu flag or weave names into the baskets. It’s pretty impressive, since they do all of it without a pattern. There are some “standard” patterns for baskets. They range from simple, or what they are willing to teach me at the moment, to complicated. The basket I was given upon arrival in Vansemakul is in the complicated realm while Jason’s basket is considered plain. The picture is Jason’s basket. I’ll get a good picture of mine eventually.
The other kind of dye is used for special mats. There is a vine that grows only in Central Pentecost which makes a vibrant red dye. The mats dyed with this are used for kastom ceremonies and kastom economics. For instance, fines are often paid in red mats and red mats are given to the family of bride or groom. There are two kinds of red mats, the big ones are used purely for payments. The small ones are used for payments but are also clothing for kastom ceremonies. The clothing I’m referring to here is a loin cloth.
The red mats are not woven with their patterns, instead they are dyed after they are woven by being boiled in the dye while tied around a banana tree. I haven’t seen the process yet, I’ll write more when I do.
Besides that, the art is pretty minimal in my area. There is some kastom dancing, though I haven’t seen much of it yet. On Ambae there is wood carving and on Malekula there are masks and kastom dancing. Tanna has volcano related dances and ritual theater.
It is hard for me to not be inundated by art. I’m used to being surrounded by people who oozue creativity. Here, people rarely sing. Not because they aren’t happy, but because singing is something you do in a band, not whenever you feel like it. Art feels like a luxury here in a way it didn’t at home.
I bought a guitar. I have plans to make stilts. I’m writing a lot. I’ve been combating the lack of art for art’s sake by producing more on my own. It is good for my productivity and this place is beautiful enough to feed a large amount of creativity. I’ll survive and be even more grateful for my friends who believe in creating art in any form.