Shopping for Handicrafts
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.
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.