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Shopping for Handicrafts

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Baskets collected by the boat Arc Tracer as they cruised RMI. Photo: Jerry Hickson

Baskets collected by the boat Arc Tracer as they cruised RMI. Photo: Jerry Hickson

By SUZANNE CHUTARO

In a country where the unemployment rate for women is high as 70 percent and a majority of the adult population have few skills due to a poor education system, the traditional skill of handicraft weaving is providing many local families with an opportunity to survive in modern times.

Marshallese handicrafts are renowned in international craft circles for their intricacy, uniqueness, and style. Visit any of the local handicraft stores and you’ll be amazed at the variety of crafts available from delicate bracelets to huge laundry baskets.

The quality of weaving is so intricate that some visitor’s refuse to believe that they are handmade, claiming that they were probably done in a factory in the Philippines — despite these claims, however, we can guarantee that you will find no two pieces alike.

Handicraft weaving is a valuable skill, especially for the women who are increasingly becoming the bread winners for their families with this skill alone.

A resident of Aur offers a basket for sale. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

A resident of Aur offers a basket for sale. Photo: Karen Earnshaw

On the outer atolls, where copra is the only cash crop for families, infrequent shipping schedules and the labor intensiveness of preparing copra is finding some men abandoning this back breaking trade and are now helping the women prepare material to make their handicrafts.

All of the handicrafts are made with local natural materials such as maañ (leaves of the pandanus tree) and kimij (fronds from a new shoot of a coconut tree).

Because of the time it takes to prepare the materials and then to weave the material into a product, you can expect to pay from $10 for handicraft jewelry, $25 to $50 for Kili bags, obons (wall hangings), ieb keke (baskets), or about $200 for a laundry basket.

Prices for handicrafts are set on a per inch basis and, unlike other destinations where you can haggle over the price, bargaining is not practiced in the Marshall Islands. In fact most weavers find bargaining insulting and are generally offended by visitors who haggle over the prices. This means that rather then getting any sort of response from the shopkeeper or private seller, you may just end up with a blank stare of confusion.

There are numerous handicraft stores in downtown Majuro and even more small shops at the Amata Kabua International Airport. Most weavers and shops are members of the Marshall Islands Handicraft Association, so you’ll find that the price differences between shops both in town and at the airport are comparable.

It goes without saying that Marshallese handicrafts are great souvenirs and gifts pieces and many of the stores will organize shipping of larger pieces for you.

And our last word on handicraft shopping is that if you find something you like — buy it. Reason being, you’ll never find another piece exactly like it here or anywhere else in the world.

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10 Responses to Shopping for Handicrafts

  1. Connie Hatfield December 9, 2016 at 6:50 am

    Is there a store on RMI that sells handicrafts online and ships to the USA? I would love to purchase some of them, if I could. Thank you

     
  2. Pat Bird December 5, 2016 at 6:17 am

    I am interested in purchasing a traditional first birthday mat for my granddaughter who lives in Sicily. Her birth parents are from the Marshall Islands. Can you help me or give me another source that I can pursue?

     
  3. Pam Mckenzie November 11, 2015 at 7:32 am

    I have seen first hand a couple of stunning Marshall Island baskets, and am very interested in a basket with handles and a cover. Can you provide me with information regarding the possibility of such a purchase? Thank you for your kind response.

     
    • yachtseal@hotmail.com November 11, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Hi Pam, I will go to a nearby handicraft store and take some photos of baskets with handles and covers at lunchtime and will email you.
      Stand by
      Karen

       
  4. Jackie September 29, 2015 at 7:22 am

    Hello,
    I’m looking to purchase a stick navigation chart to display in my classroom and am wondering if you sell these, or perhaps know someone who does? Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Sincerely,
    Jackie

     
    • yachtseal@hotmail.com September 29, 2015 at 9:00 am

      Hi Jackie, Thanks for your request. You can check out the web site that belongs to the Canoe House (Waan Aelon in Majel) where they have a products page and a contact page: http://www.canoesmarshallislands.com. They make beautiful stick charts as well as lots of other items. I will privately email you the email address of the director, Alson Kelen, to make sure you make contact. Cheers, Karen

       
  5. Frank Mc September 14, 2015 at 11:56 am

    Hi Karen,

    My wife is also looking for a Marshallese fan. Do you have a list of the items you have available?

    Frank

     
    • yachtseal@hotmail.com September 14, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      Hi Frank, I don’t sell fans personally, but I can buy one for you. I will email a photo of a fan and if you like this design, I will tell you how much it costs. I work with a lovely little handicraft store called Happy Hands. Stand by. K

       
  6. yachtseal@hotmail.com August 23, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Vonda, I will email you a photo of a fan to see if it’s the right type and, if so, I can tell you how much they are and then buy one for your daughter and send. Stand by, Karen

     
  7. Vonda Zingg August 23, 2015 at 9:10 am

    Hello. My daughter is in 5th grade and doing a country project on the Marshall Islands this year. She will be doing a presentation in May of 2016. We used a picture of the handmade fans made from dried coconut fibers on her report cover. It would be nice to buy one for her to use as a prop and keep as a souvenir afterwards. Thank you.