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Tongan Family Treasures

My Name is Helena Tatafu. My parents were both born in Tonga. They came to New Zealand because there were jobs here.

My great grandmother loved weaving. She could make huge mats, the size of a large classroom. She knew how to make all sorts of mats and could weave very fine mats. The finest mats are woven more finely and are whiter in colour.She taught my grandmother a lot of skills.

My grandmother also made embroidered mats. These had a woollen fringe and the patterns on the mat were also embroidered in wool. I have heard that when they first started to use woollen embroidery in Tonga, they used to import the wool from America because it was cheaper. 

My auntie made the apron which I am wearing in the photograph. She is a very creative person. It is my favourite treasure because it was the first item made especially for me. It was made to be worn at a church ceremony when I joined the third order of Mary at a Balmoral Catholic Church. It is made out of fau, and is created by using a cardboard template. You wind the fau around the templates and then you cut them. Each piece is then sewn together to make a garment. She learnt these skills from her mother -  my grandmother.

A special Tongan apron

My auntie also made the Tongan costume which I wore in a competition. I won a prize for it. It is an original piece of work because it is based on the Tongan flag. In the photograph, my sister Christina is modelling this costume.

Christina wearing the Tongan Flag costume

(Photographs copyright Lyn Potter, 2003)