The women of the Tuamotus don’t have many opportunities to earn money, a talkative local lady told Diana and me. They help with the copra production and pearl farming but other than that they turn to shell work for extra money. They can sell in larger markets at events in Tahiti but mostly they offer their work at events like this.
The Marveilles du Lagon tent held table after table of shell garlands, necklaces, bracelets and earrings. I asked one woman where they find the shells and if they were from deep water or shallow. On the beach, she said, and she pantomimed pawing through the coral sand and picking out the tiny shells one at a time. Then she demonstrated punching a hole with a sharp awl and stringing them on monofilament. It’s a lot of work, she said. I could see that, and the work is beautiful.
I bought a pair of shell earrings, then when I saw a beautiful pair Diana bought I asked the craftswoman to make me some just like them. When I came back later she’d made two pair, so I bought them both, one for my sister.
One woman had pearls. I’d given up any hope of getting black pearls after we visited the boutiques run by the big pearl farms during our bike ride and found them to be priced way out of our budget. But here was a woman who had more reasonably priced pieces she made herself, necklaces, bracelets and the same pearl stud earrings I’d admired on the girls at the dance competition. Diana and I, and eventually many of the other women cruisers, returned again and again to this corner of the chapiteau to see what pieces she displayed that day. Are they top quality pearls? Perhaps not, but they’re beautiful nonetheless and if you’re close enough to see the flaws in my pearls, you’d better have a box of chocolates.
The best part is that I bought them directly from the person who cultured and harvested them and that’s more valuable to me than the finest grade any day.