Vanuatu: Ambae Mats

Mats are an integral part of Vanuatu culture and are used in all rituals such as marriage, birth, death and achievement of rank. The mats in Ambae are made of pandanus leaves woven by the women in different sizes and degrees of fineness. These mats are mainly used as clothing, furnishing and for exchange. The woven pattern, size and quality vary with its intended purpose.


The pandanus leaves are plaited to make what is called a “white mat.” The mat is then wrapped to a bamboo pole along with stencils and fastened with a rope made of coconut fiber. The stencils are carved on the outer layer of a banana trunk and are used to give each mat a pattern. The next step is to dye the mats using traditional natural colors created from plants or synthetic dyes. The dye is mixed with water in a boat shaped iron container and placed over fire. The poles with the mats are then placed in these containers to boil until the desired color is reached. The final step is to remove the mats from the pole and dry them.