Wednesday, June 5, 2013

31 Uses for a Laplap

Ah, the lowly laplap. While you may not initially think of including one in your packing list, I would be remiss to ever wander anywhere in Papua New Guinea without at least one of these stowed in my bag. A laplap is large, wide piece of thin cloth that is in its primary definition, an essential component of a PNG woman’s wardrobe. But, far from being relegated to merely an article of clothing, the laplap is extremely versatile. In fact, over the past several years, I’ve observed at least 31 uses for the laplap—and I’m sure there are plenty more I could add to this list!

(Note: PNG taboos and customs require that although a single laplap could be used for all of these tasks, it most certainly should not be; for example, laplaps used in and around cooking and food preparation must not be used as articles of clothing, etc.)

  1. Baby sling—If you can’t find a bilum (traditional string bag), then you can easily tie up a laplap to either create a quick cradle to hang from the rafters or a sling to hold your infant on your back.
  2. Bathing outfit—Ladies, it’s time for your daily bath—which means going to the river along with a dozen other women and children. Cross your laplap around the front and tie it behind your neck for a modest bathing outfit that still lets you get clean.
  3. Bedsheet—Why bring extra sheets to a village when all you need is a laplap to wrap yourself in?
    Bed sheets, floor sheets, towels, dish cloths--lots of laplaps!
  4. Blanket—If the night gets cool, just throw an extra laplap over your laplap sheet to make a cozy blanket.
  5. Broom—You have been chopping onions for dinner and some of the skins have fallen on the floor. Grab your laplap to sweep up the debris.
  6. Chalkboard duster—Wipe off your chalkboard (or whiteboard) with a laplap duster.
  7. Curtain—Hang a laplap over a window for privacy (want a quick and dirty window treatment? Use clothespins and some plastic string for a 5-min installation.)
  8. Dish cloth—When you make your daily trek to the river, don’t forget your dishes. A laplap makes a perfect dish cloth for both scrubbing and drying.
  9. Door—No door? No problem! Hang up a laplap for a hinge-free door.
  10. Floorcloth or mop—Did the dog track in some mud (or the chicken or the pig or the child)? Never fear! Wet down that laplap and mop it all up!
  11. Floor sheet—Instead of laying your mattress directly on the limbum or bamboo floor, spread a laplap as a thin layer of protection against slivers and dirt.
  12. Fly sheet—Flies are dreaded visitors to every dinner party, spreading disease wherever they land. Militantly guard your food by covering every bowl with laplaps.
    Women wearing laplaps and pots covered in laplaps.
  13. Food basket—With some creative folding, a laplap can easily turn into a basket or bag to carry home that garden produce.
  14. Handkerchief—Paper products are expensive and who carries Kleenex with them? Use a laplap for a handkerchief for both yourself and your children.
  15. Hand towel—Always wash your hands before and after eating...and a laplap can create an instant hand towel.
  16. Mosquito net cover—Once you’ve set up your mosquito net, either hang or drape a laplap over the top; because most roofs are made of natural products (like sago palm leaves or grass), it’s not unusual to have bits of leaves, sticks, or various many-legged creatures fall out of the roof onto your mosquito net. If you hang a laplap above, you can collect the debris and toss it out in the morning.
  17. Muffler—Are you coughing too loudly in the middle of a workshop? Wrap a laplap around your face to muffle the sound.
    The "muffler" has to be the oddest use of a laplap I've seen
  18. Piano or electronics dust cover—Dust and dirt is everywhere in PNG, and it collects in mere hours. Cover up your valuables (like your piano or your computer or printer) with a laplap to extend its life.
  19. Raincoat—PNG is in the tropics, and that means rain. Wear a laplap over your head and shoulders to help shed some of the water.
  20. Room divider—With only one-room houses, it can be hard to create privacy. Hang laplaps to create instant rooms (sound proofing is not included).
  21. Scarf—On those cold mornings in Ukarumpa, wrap a laplap around your neck as a warm scarf.
  22. Sewing material—Laplaps make great bolts of fabric for sewing projects—pillows, rugs, meri blouses, culottes, you name it!
  23. Shawl—Nights can get chilly up in the mountains; wear the laplap as a shawl to keep warm.
  24. Sling—Although no one wants a broken arm, if you do get injured, you can make a fast and easy sling with your handy laplap
  25. Sun shield—Wrap a laplap around your head during the heat of the day, and just like the turbans of the Bedouin, you will find some sun relief. Alternatively, drape it over a bilum where your baby is sleeping to guard him from the ferocious rays.
  26. Tablecloth—Spruce up your dinner table with a lovely laplap tablecloth.
  27. Tent—The hot tropical sun is ready to fry your skin; build a laplap tent to create some instant shade.
  28. Towel—Once you’re done bathing, grab a laplap to dry off.
  29. Trousers Cover-up—Now that trousers are part of women’s clothing, the laplap functions as a cover-up to allow us to wear jeans in public areas while still remaining modestly attired.
  30. Umbrella—If you are trying to keep several people dry, I suggest holding up the corners to make an impromptu umbrella.
  31. Wraparound Skirt—And finally, last (but not least), its traditional use—an article of clothing. PNG women have mastered the ability to wrap it around and knot it such that it remains secure even under the most trying of circumstances. This, however, takes practice, and since practice takes time, I highly recommend the use of a safety pin (or two) until you are certain you have the knack... (And men, don’t forget! If you are from the outer islands, a laplap is an important traditional part of your wardrobe as well!
There you have it—the amazing and humble laplap. To some, it’s just a piece of fabric, to others it serves as the cotton (or, sometimes synthetic) version of a Target catalog!