Fan (Drel or Ral), late 19th–early 20th century
Marshallese people, Marshall Islands
Pandanus leaves, hibiscus fiber; H. 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm)
Gift of the American Friends of the Israel Museum, 1983 (1983.545.5)
The consummate skill that Micronesian fiber artists often devoted to creating even the most mundane objects is evident in this remarkable fan from the Marshall Islands. Created by women, Marshallese fans were of two basic types: a simpler form made from coconut leaves and a more ornate variety, of which the present work is an example, made from pandanus leaves and black hibiscus fiber, consisting of a central panel woven around the handle and adorned with a separately made ornamental border.
There is little information on the use and significance of fans in the Marshall Islands. They were reportedly employed primarily in fire making, used to fan the flames or embers of a fire to kindle a lively blaze. However, the ornate nature of many examples strongly suggests that some at least were valued personal accessories used, like fans throughout the world, to cool the body in the tropical heat.