In this blog, I’d like to talk about a recent purchase I made and the reason behind it.
Last year, I was in my home province for work, and decided to make a ‘hearts’ purchase, i.e. buy something that spoke to my heart, and most importantly, to my roots.
Cue, the kuza (pronounced: cor-za), or Choiseul custom string bag.
What is Kuza?
Kuza is what we call our local string bag’s fibres, and it is indigenous to our province.
They are a fashion staple in any Choiseul woman’s closet, as they are light and extremely hardy - I can easily carry my work laptop in mine. Also, did I mention they are 100% organic. Win-win!
Woven from the bark of the tulip tree (or leko* tree) and called koboto* in our dialect, these string bags are originally from Choiseul Province (also known as Lauru), one of the nine main provinces in Solomon Islands.
If you are ever in Taro, Choiseul Province - have a walk around to the Women’s Development Centre (near the Taro police post). At the Centre, there are many kuza bags in varying sizes on sale, made by women from villages near Taro. Each woman’s name is marked on the bag, and the centre collects the money on her behalf, passing it on to her when she is back in Taro.
I bought two in Taro for $100 and $150 a piece. They become more expensive, the more intricately they are woven.
Alternatively, kuza is sold in Honiara at the Central Market or the Art Gallery craft markets, but for a much higher price.
Sidenote: There is a larger version of the hand-bag sized kuza, called bubuzai that we usually use to take to the garden.
There is quite a bit of effort put into producing these string bags.
The bark of the tulip/leko tree is first soaked in saltwater, before the being dried in the sun. Once the bark is dry, the fibres in it are then separated, and rolled on women’s thighs. Women will spend hours on end, rubbing the bark against their legs to smoothen them into plait-able strings, which they then weave into the kuza bags.
A simple kuza (with diagonal mesh) can take up to a month to be made. The more detailed and larger bubuzai (with square, reinforced mesh) can take up to three or four months to make.
There is a lot of labour that goes into their production and usually one could cost up to $300 (approximately AUD $50), depending on its size, texture and colour.
Before jumping on the amount, or trying to bargain for a better price, please do remember the amount of effort that goes into creating one of these. They are also very prized possessions of my people, and a trademark of our province. Such items would not be on the market for a cheap price.
To give you an idea of what they look like, please watch this variance of the ‘Pass the brush Challenge’, where a few gorgeous young women from my province did a ‘Pass the Kuza Challenge’. See here.
*My tribe speaks the Choiseul language, in particular, the Sisiqa dialect.