Dress Mat | neided
About the object
Up until the South Sea islanders came into contact with European missionaries and settlers, women’s clothing was made from two woven dress mats, which reached down to the ankles. The two dress mats were held in place on the hips by a belt several meters long. The front dress mat was put on first.
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The wives of chiefs often wore a third mat, which would protect the other two dress mats when sitting on the floor. Men also wore such dress mats on special occasions; either as a pair or alone with a skirt made of barkcloth. Jaki-ed is the general name for dress mats, whereas the finely made variety is called neided. They are woven from leaves of the indigenous Pandanus tree (wūnmaañ). The decorative embroidery on the border of the mats is known as lōlō. The weaving of mats is traditionally performed by women and is therefore strongly associated with female identity. The earliest accounts of dress mats are found in the travelogues of Otto von Kotzebue and Adelbert von Chamisso from 1816. Clothing practices were transformed through contact with missionaries and colonisation: long, cotton dresses for women were introduced (wau, known in English as the “Mother Hubbard dress”) to cover up their naked upper torsos, while men wore trousers and shirts. The knowledge of weaving techniques and the cultural meaning of the patterns was lost as a result. Women’s cooperatives, such as the Jaki-ed Restoration and Revival Programme in Majuro, endeavour today to restore traditional handcrafts and, by means of this, provide women with an income. The exhibition of jaki-ed in online collections helps to make traditional patterns and techniques digitally accessible. Even though mats are no longer worn as clothing nowadays, they remain a meaningful expression of the creativity of the Marshall Island peoples. This and the associated mat II/1255 were probably worn by a young girl. Author: Godwin Kornes, Translation: Timothy Connell