HUNAI, Alice; Bwana (Money mat)
Alice Hunai was born in Lavusi (Pentecost Island, Vanuatu) in 1951. From a young age she was taught to weave by her mother and grandmother, and continued while attending school on Pentecost and Ambae. From 1970 until 1985 Hunai worked in clerical jobs for the British and Vanuatuan governments while she wove as a hobby. In 1985 she moved with her family to Townsville, Australia, and in 1986 she began weaving on a professional basis. Hunai has taught weaving at the Townsville College of TAFE, the Fibre Association of Townsville, and in private lessons.
Weaving is traditionally a women's art form in the Pacific. The pandanus leaf, the primary material, is treated differently for different forms of weaving before use. Objects such as baskets and mats are made for everyday use as well as for ceremonial occasions, and a woman's weaving skills are highly appreciated and acknowledged by the wider community. Originally natural dyes were used to create variation and emphasise the motif, but in more recent years the use of artificial dyes has become common.
Hunai makes baskets, hats, and other small objects for commercial outlets but produces a much smaller number of large scale mats. These mats take between three and six months to complete and require a large volume of material that is prepared and sent to Hunai by her mother in Vanuatu: the local variety of pandanus in Townsville is too dry for Hunai's extremely fine technique.
Bwana (Money mat) is based on traditional designs from Pentecost Island but Hunai's weaving technique brings an individual touch. Each weaver brings something personal to their work and Hunai has perfected her own very fine approach to the weave. She has also adopted particular traditional patterns which have developed into a more personal symbolic language. This work features a diamond-shaped symbol of the fish, devised by the artist, to represent cycles of life and peace. Traditionally, bwana are presented as offerings in marriages and also for making peace after disputes.