Date: late 19th–early 20th century
Geography: Republic of the Marshall Islands
Medium: Pandanus leaves, hibiscus fiber
Dimensions: H. 32 1/2 x W. 34 in. (82.6 x 86.4 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of American Friends of the Israel Museum, 1983
Accession Number: 1983.545.36
In the Marshall Islands, both men and women formerly wore ornate dress mats, called jaki-ed, in, or nieded, adorned with separately made borders with intricate geometric designs. Each sex wore the mats in a specific fashion. Women wore the mats in pairs, one at the front and one at the back, hanging full length from the waist to form a skirt that extended to the ankles and was secured with a narrow belt. When forming the skirt each day, the back mat was always wrapped around the hips over the front mat to allow the richly patterned borders to be seen. Men typically wore a single mat at the waist, tucked into a belt at the front, passed between the legs, and tucked into the belt again at the back to form a loincloth. On important occasions, male chiefs and other high-ranking men wore a single mat full length at the front like an apron over a voluminous fiber skirt.
Made by women, the mats consist of a plain central section to which the separately created ornamental border was sewn, in the past, with delicate needles made from bird or fish bone. In creating the borders, artists interwove the light tan pandanus fiber with black fibers made from dyed hibiscus bast and reddish-brown fibers derived from a local creeper to create geometric patterns of great complexity. The patterns in the borders appear to have been purely ornamental. Superbly crafted yet wholly practical, Marshallese dress mats are a testimony to the ability of Micronesian fiber artists to create striking works of art from the most basic materials. The art of making the mats, long in decline, has recently been revived by contemporary Marshallese artists.