The Mama Market - Vanuatu

In the middle of Port Vila (the main town on the island of Efate, Vanuatu), there's a big market place called the Mama Market, named so because it's run entirely by mums. These amazing ladies set up their stalls on Monday morning, and while caring for toddlers and nursing their babies, they sell a variety products from their village gardens such as bananas, ginger, manioc, peanuts and even chickens in handwoven baskets. The Mamas work and sleep in their stalls all week until Saturday evening (so they're back home for church on Sunday) or until they have sold out of their products then they pack up the stall and take the babies home. There's a simple amenities block available for the Mamas with toilets and a shower adjacent to the market structure (it's a very big open-sided structure with a roof) but their beds are grass mats on a concrete floor behind their trestle table.

Right at the back of the Mama Market is a section that has rows of stallholders selling gift and souvenir items such as dolls, necklaces, carved bowls and a lot of clothing. You can buy simply made dresses and shirts for the entire family for a few dollars. All of these Mamas make everything in their small stalls then display them immediately for sale. There's no electricity available to any of the stalls so these lovely Mamas all sew on the most amazing vintage handcrank sewing machines! They cut the fabric using a rudimentary tape measure (mostly pieces of cardboard with pencil marks to indicate the different garment sizes) and scissors -- no patterns! And as there's no zigzag stitches or overlockers available, they sew everything with a straight stitch and finish the garments with french seams. As we walked around the market, we could hear the distinctive patter of 70 year old sewing machines all around us.

The fabric they use is mainly polyester and is purchased by the yard from the local "Chinese stores" - very similar to our two dollar stores. They sell all the usual cheap plastic items but it's also the only place where you can buy fabric and sewing supplies. Fabric costs around V350-500 (A$4-6) per yard. 


For most of the Mamas, this is their families' only source of income. Some of the sewing machines have lost their decals and even their black japanning long ago but are still producing beautiful dresses. 


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