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Atiu artisan keeps traditional Ava art alive at FestPAC 2024

Thursday 13 June 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Entertainment, Features

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Atiu artisan keeps traditional Ava art alive at FestPAC 2024
Tereapii Ardmore Manu from the island of Atiu at her stall in the FestPAC Village at the Hawai’i Convention Center. FestPac Cook Islands 2024/24061212

Tereapii Ardmore Manu from the island of Atiu is embracing the traditional art of transforming the humble Ava (banyan) tree root bark into a stunning array of decorative and functional items.

Manu is one of the artisans representing the Cook Islands at the 13th Pacific Arts Festival and Culture in Honolulu, Hawai’i, attracting customers to her stall filled with beautiful and creative crafts.

Her pare (hats) are so popular that she’s kept busy, even waking up in the early hours of the morning to create more items for her stall.

Manu learned the art of making fibre from ava from her mother, who in turn had inherited the skill from her own mother, Rongomaki Vaine Nooapii Manu.

Although she has managed to pass on her knowledge of making the sought-after fibre cloth to one of her daughters Rose, Manu says she is saddened that many of the younger generation have no interest in learning the dying art and continuing its production.

“Te ngaro nei teia tareni,” says Manu. “I teia taime e Atiu, kare e nui ana te mapu i te inangaro i te kite i te maani i teia angaanga.”

“Te akaroa i te uki o teia ra.

“The talent I have is from my grandmother Teio Atua Terangi o Tangaroa (U’a Takamoa), it was passed on to my mother, then to me, and now to one of my daughters, Rose. I am blessed she has an interest in it.”

While growing up, Manu would watch her mother create her Ava pieces. At the age of nine, she started cutting out her own flower shapes on paper.

Manu is also skilled in sewing tivaivai tataura and tivaivai manu – the intricate needlework art pieces that are passed down as heirlooms, and sews ei and ei katu for orders.

She is always busy on her home island meeting orders including orders coming from Rarotonga.

“There is a lot of work in Atiu. In my opinion, if you have patience, you can do these things.

“This is how I earn my living, making these things, but you need patience.”

The Ava tree grows inland on Atiu. Preparing the bark requires hard work.

“It’s not easy work to make the Ava. You cut the root first, cook the bark, peel it, beat it to soften it and dry it in the sun on mats. In the old days we used to iron the ava to get it flat, then cut out the shapes.”

Manu is proud to say that the Ava is well utilised in Nga-Pu-Toru (Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke), and the islands work together to create beautiful garments for traditional and chiefly investiture ceremonies.

“Te Ava e mea puapinga kia matou i Nga-Pu-Toru.

“Te Ava, e angaanga nuinui tai i to matou enua, i Nga-Pu-Toru, me e akarikianga o te Mataipo, Rangatira e Ariki ko te kakau tera no runga i te marae.”

Manu says she is proud and happy to be given the opportunity to represent her island at the FestPAC and would like to acknowledge everyone who have supported her in her journey including Minister Rose Vainetutai Toki-Brown and MP Te-Hani Brown.

Looking ahead, Manu has high hopes that the art will attract more young people. She believes there’s a growing interest in learning traditional crafts, which can provide a viable source of income.

Manu’s stall is located in the first Cook Islands Hut in the Festival Village at the Hawai’i Convention Center.

  • Melina Etches in Honolulu