The ta'ovala is the distinctive Tongan traditional skirt. The custom may have originated when Tongan mariners used canoe sails to cloak their nakedness. Made of a finely woven pandanus-leaf mat, the ta'ovala is worn around the waist. The men secure it with a coconut-fiber cord, while the women wear a kiekie waistband.
The sight of a group of Tongan women on the road, each with a huge pandanus mat tied around herself, is truly striking. Worn especially on formal occasions, these mats are often prized heirlooms.
The king wears European dress to a European function, but dresses in his plaited ta'ovala, tied around the waist over the vala (skirt or kilt), and wear sandals or go barefoot to a Tongan ceremony or entertainment. Tongans dress in black and wear huge ta'ovalas when mourning.
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