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Ie Toga recognised as international icon

The Samoan fine mat ( known as "ie Samoa") had its significance to world culture recognised this week, following its inclusion on a global list of humanity's most significant cultural treasures. 

The ie Samoa was included on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, announced earlier this week. The list is maintained by the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (U.N.E.S.C.O.). 

The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of U.N.E.S.C.O. has been updated annually for the past decade. 

The Ie Samoa is a special finely hand-woven mat usually by women in groups (fale lalaga) and typically fastened at the hem with rows of coloured feathers and a loose fringe on one end.

This year, U.N.E.S.C.O's Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage met in Bogota, Colombia from December 9 to 14 to consider the nominated inclusions for this year's list from countries and cultures worldover. 

Producing a single fine mat can sometimes take up to several months, or even years. In years gone by, a mother would start weaving a fine mat once her daughter was born in preparation for presentation at her wedding day. 

"Nevertheless, the ie Samoa is more than a cultural product involving exceptional skill; its true value lies in its use as an object of exchange in traditional ceremonies and rituals that reaffirm kinship ties and strengthen community well being," a U.N.E.S.C.O. spokesman said. 

"The Ie Samoa is displayed and exchanged at festive celebrations or on important gatherings such as weddings and funerals, and its exchange contributes profoundly to the maintenance of the social structure. 

"Today, an increasing number of young female weavers are involved, and even male weavers. Women and master weavers have established fine mat committees within their villages, allowing them to exchange ideas about best practice for weaving, and to boost opportunities for strengthening the transmission of the art form."

Each year, The Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (M.W.C.S.D) hosts Annual Exhibition of ie Samoa (fine mats) and another form of Samoan cloth art, the Siapo.

Earlier this year, an 11-year-old girl from Nofoalii was recognised as the nation's most accomplished youngest weaver for her display of skills at fine mat making during the showcase. She first learned how to weave at five-years-old by watching others, especially her family members, perform the art. 

The revival of the production of the Ie Samoa and Siapo not only represents a reinvigoration of Samoan arts and crafts but also the promotion of women’s craft as a new industry capable of making a contribution to Samoa's economic development. 

According to the U.N.E.S.C.O. website, the importance of intangible cultural heritage is not as a physical manifestation of culture itself but also to acknowledge the transfer of knowledge and skills between generation. 

"The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones," the organisation spokeswoman said. 

UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage proposes five broad ‘domains’ in which intangible cultural heritage can exist: oral traditions and expressions; performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; and traditional craftsmanship.

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