Cultural survival and revival

“YOU can’t buy any of the materials you’ll find in these necklaces,” says Chonj Floryne, a jewellery artist from Tahiti, who creates native accessories from coconut fibre, seashells and black pearls.

Inspired by a 500-year- old jewellerymaking tradition, the process involves a series of labourious steps, which include collecting dried coconuts, extracting the fibre from the husks, braiding it into tiny ropes and adding the intricate details. It takes a whole day to make a simple piece, and 10 days for a complicated design — crafted by hand.

In the modern world in which everything can be bought from commercial shops, traditional artists look to what nature provides. “There are only six remaining of us in Tahiti who are still doing this,” Florynen says. “I tried to teach the young people but when they found out they have to make their own materials from the coconut husks, they’ve lost interest. They would rather do their thing with their cell phones and Internet.”

Floryne is among the more than 2500 delegates participating in the 2016 Festival of the Pacific Arts, which opened last month at the Paseo Stadium on Guam. Also known as the “Olympics of the Arts,” FestPac is the Pacific islanders’ counter to the bustle of modern living that accelerates change and threatens to root out much that was good. This is a collective effort to preserve diverse and unique identities and to fight the commercialism that treats cultures as cursory entertainment for tourists. 

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