If you've ever been to any of the resorts in Tahiti, chances are you've seen some master crafters' work and traditional thatching (left) made from lauhala. It is the second most important tree in Polynesia after the mighty coconut - the tree of life.
There are many varieties of lauhala in Tahiti. And there are just as many uses for the versatile and useful member of the Pandancaceae family. The tree is also known as a screw pine.
Traditional Tahitian homes anciently were made of family compounds that had thatched roofs woven from either the coconut (niau) fronds or pandanus (raufara/lauhala) leaves. Today, you're likely to see this architecture only at the luxury resorts. The raufara leaves were found to be more resistent to rain and wind and tended to last longer periods of time compared to the coconut fronds.
Low land varieties of raufara include fara iri, which is used for making mats; fara pe'ue, with long flexible leaves and is also used in mat making; and fare paeore, a choice kind with very long thornless leaves which is used for weaving fine mats and delicate work. In the mountains there are even more varieties.
Raufara leaves are very durable and artisans, crafters and thatchers create many useful items including hats, mats, fans, roof thatching and even canoe sails, just like ancient times.
Preparation of raufara is labor intensive, especially because of the time it takes to carefully remove the hard thorn edge often found on most varieties. Removing these edges is done by hand. After collecting the dry raufara leaves, Tahitians place them in bundles and submerge them in sea water for a day to make them resistant to insects. The damp leaves are then softened over a piece of wood and beaten with a mallet to remove the green outer skin. When all the preparations are done, the leaves are then rolled up and tied until needed for weaving. These finished rolls are what we offer at Black Pearl Designs for crafters, dancers and weaving enthusiasts.