Women weaving individual and collective identities in Kosrae, Micronesia (1824-1924)

Author(s): Helen Alderson

Year: 2017


In Oceania, archaeologists have examined perishable ethnographic items to gain fresh insights into past people’s identities. This paper presents a new analysis of 19th and 20th century Micronesian loincloths from European and American museums, explaining how their construction offers insights into islanders’ socio-political identities during a period of rapidly intensifying global interconnectivity.

On the island Kosrae, Micronesia, tol (loincloths) were the primary garment of every polity member. Women wove tol on looms, using specific motifs to create identifiable styles. The German Southseas Expedition (1908-1910) recorded that each style materialised an individual social status, such as fisherperson or chief. I propose that in weaving tol, women also created collective social identities, such a gendered sense of self as traditional knowledge holders.

While tol were indisputably Kosraean, their history is connected to a broader Micronesian weaving tradition. Tol motifs were not only passed from Kosraean mothers to daughters, but were also passed between interacting populations. This sharing accelerated after European contact (1824). In order to quantify this change, I present statistical analyses of motif transferal over time in tol, illustrating how Kosraean women used insider and outsider motifs to maintain old identities, and construct entirely new ones, in an increasingly cosmopolitan world.

Cite this Record

Women weaving individual and collective identities in Kosrae, Micronesia (1824-1924). Helen Alderson. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 429486)

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Identity Oceania Textile

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: 111.973; min lat: -52.052 ; max long: -87.715; max lat: 53.331 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 17306