Tuvalu News

Mele's passion for handicraft

May 3, 2008

EVERYONE is blessed with a talent or gift to do something special.

While some can sing or draw, Mele Chambers is a creative woman.

Her handicraft include mat and tapa-design baskets, handbags, shell beads and necklaces and other assorted handicraft for the home.

The 62-year-old woman of Samoan and Tokelauan descent was born and bred in Suva but as a child, she travelled to and fro from Tuvalu, Kiribati, Samoa and Fiji.

Third in a family of five children, Mele started learning handicraft from a young age.

Her parents were Simeona Peni and Lise Esera.

Her father was a doctor and that is why they travelled a lot to various Pacific islands.

"My maternal grandparents were missionaries from the London Missionary Society who went to Tuvalu.

"They were from Tokelau.

"My paternal grandparents were also missionaries but from Samoa.

"They too went to Tuvalu for their mission.

"That is where my parents met.

"That time, my mother used to help teach at missionary schools and then became a teacher.

"My parents got married in Tuvalu.

"Being a doctor was very hard and in those days, my father was the doctor for Gilbert and Ellis Islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu).

"So we used to travel here and there a lot.

"After my maternal grandparents finished their missionary work in Tuvalu, they came back to Fiji.

"Unfortunately, my parents divorced and my mother was left to look after us."

Mele attended primary school at different levels in Samoa, and Tuvalu.

She continued her secondary school at Elaine Bernacchi Girls School in the late 1950s.

Mele is one of the pioneers of the school at Tarawa, Kiribati.

She came to Fiji in 1961 and rented at the Suva Hotel.

Mele's passion for creativity came from her grandmother.

"When I was young, my grandmother used to teach the craft in Tuvalu.

"She taught handicraft particular to Samoa and Tokelau.

"I used to watch her teach and eventually I was able to teach myself how to weave baskets.

"We moved to Waikerekere settlement at Veisari and our family house has been there since 1961.

"I continued my education at a commercial school studying typing. I got my Certificate in Typing but I decided to stay home and help my mother so my younger siblings could attend school.

"There were times when we used to spend the night outside the market to sell our handicraft to tourists who came in cruise liners that came.

"We sold a lot of things and it was good then because a lot of liners called."

Mele worked as a machinist at Kiwi United factory. She met Arthur Chambers from Nadroga and married in 1968.

She said apart from her Samoan, Kiribati and Tokelau baskets, she can also weave and design Tongan bags and baskets.

"After I married I stayed home and looked after my six children.

"I used to make roti parcels for my husband to sell at work just to help out especially when he was the only breadwinner.

"That time we had our own place but we moved back to Veisari 10 years ago, that is when I started to make mat and tapa baskets and bags.

"There were a lot of women in the area who knew how to make them but they did not really think of it.

"We formed the Veisari Women's Handicraft Association and held workshops to teach other women in our area the art of making handicraft.

"I used to have a stall at the Suva handicraft centre and gave it to the other women to sell their wares.

"I took it back last year and started selling my handicraft.

"The creativity and imagination is endless when it comes to designing your own baskets and mats.

"You can come up with all sorts of fancy designs.

"I love making them and it makes me happy."

Mele said handicraft was not only about making baskets, bags or fancy necklaces.

It is about having the passion to do something creative and unique.

For Mele, her handicraft work shows the hard work and dedication she put in to earn a decent living.

It is something she has never regretted.

Source: Fiji Times

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