THE GILBERT ISLANDS LINK
Australian, Noema Mahitarkiki - a former Penrhyn islander was just 14 when her grandmother taught her how to make the hats. She says the tradition started when men from the Cook Islands visited the Gilbert Islands in the 1800s and brought back wives who had been taught the art of plaiting coconut palm fronds into unique purses, fans and hats. The hats are usually adorned with mother of pearl shell which the men grind and polish.
PLAITING AND CHATTING
Part of the custom involves the women gathering in each others homes to weave, sing and share stories while plaiting the fibres around a solid wooden mahogany hat mould to achieve the perfect shape. The fibres themselves are cut, boiled, dyed and then scraped and it takes about three days to complete the hat.
HEARTS AND MINDS
None of the patterns is written down...islanders just think of them in their heads and then put their hearts into the work. Some of the hats can sell for hundreds of New Zealand dollars. But they're also often given as gifts to honoured guests and family.