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Samoan Material Culture

The Wooden Gongs

The Wooden Gongs

The instruments made from the section of a branch or trunk of a tree, hollowed out through a fairly narrow longitudinal opening, which does not quite reach the ends, are wooden gongs. These hollowed dugouts with ends cut off at right angles to the long axis are beaten with one or two sticks and emit a louder sound consonant to the hollowing out. Three well-marked classes are distinguished by size; the pate, the lali, and the longo. All these page 576types are held to be introduced from other islands. A fourth type (nafa) is held to be true Samoan.

The small hand gong. The pate is the smallest of the gongs. Two varieties are shown in Plate L A, 1 and 2; one with the ends cut off square, and the other with one end produced to form a handle.

The inside hollowing follows the elliptical section of the wood, the narrow longitudinal opening being along one end of the ellipse. The hollowing stops a little way from the ends, which are also slightly hollowed from the outside. Different notes which the musician utilizes are thus produced by beating over the middle and over the ends.

Pratt (23, p. 235) states that the pate was introduced from Tahiti; this was done by the missionaries and the Tahitian and Cook Islands name of pate was brought with it. The pate is now extensively used throughout the islands to give notice as to school hours at both the Government and Missionary schools. In Tau and other parts, a couple of the older children walked through the village with the light pate resting on the fold of the left arm whilst the right hand beats on it with a single stick or 'auta. The pate has thus become associated with school notices in distinction from the sounds made with other instruments for different purposes. The sound of the small instrument conveys notice to the small people.

The pate is sometimes used to call pigs (vala'au 'ai pud'a) when an owner takes food to the pig enclosure. The enclosures are fairly large and covered with natural growth, but the sound of the pate soon brings the pigs at full speed to the food that it announces.

The pate may be beaten with two sticks at dances. In the true home of the pate, it is essentially the instrument for marking time in the dances.

The medium-sized gong (lali). The lali are made in the same way as the pate with both ends squared. They are made out of larger sections of tree trunks and are thus stationary instruments on land or in canoes. The true lali are used in pairs which have a slightly different note purposely tested during the hollowing out.

The pair figured in Plate L, C, belong to a Savaiian village. Each lali is beaten with two sticks ('auta). They are placed under a shed in a central place in the village and are beaten by two men who blend the different notes of their instruments as they play. They are used to call the village people togther for some meeting connected with village affairs.

The Samoans state that the lali was introduced from Tonga during the Tongan occupation. The Tongans used them on their war canoes and beat them in a preliminary barrage of sound as they paraded before the villages ere commencing an attack. They were also beaten on peaceful occasions to announce the arrival of some visitor of distinction. Another name given to the lali is fafangu. The beating of the lali to call meetings together is a page 577modern usage. The Tongans used it only to announce chiefs and this usage is summed up in the word fa'aali'i.

The large gongs. The longo is a great hypertrophied gong made from the trunk of a large tree. A very large one in Bishop Museum was obtained at Fangasa, Tutuila. Some idea of the labor involved in making it may be formed from its history. The longo was made from a talie tree that grew in the district of Vaatia. Thirty men tried in vain to drag it to the sea, but the party, reinforced to 70 men, were successful with great difficulty. Ten trunks of mosooi, each as large as the supporting pillar of a round house, were made into a raft and the talie log placed on it. The raft sank. Two fautasi boats with 12 and 14 thwarts respectively, were sent to float the raft. Divers attached a strong rope to the raft. A piece of stout timber was stretched over the two boats and the rope hauled over this cross piece. After the raft was hauled about half way up to the surface, it was towed, thus submerged, to Fangasa, an operation which took two days. It was left outside the reef, buoyed up. On the third day, it was dragged on to the reef. After landing the log, the longo took 14 days to make.

The longo is beaten with a heavy beater ('auta), which is thrust against the inside of one edge of the opening. The original beater was of olasina wood; the present one is of ala'a.

This huge and unique longo was obtained by negotiation through Mr. Judd; the Fangasa people realizing that the longo would soon decay through exposure, wished to have its life prolonged in an institution where it could be taken care of. The longo is named 'O le sui fofonga o le Atua (The Voice of God), so called from its being used to summon the people to church.

The Fangasan people maintained that the longo was termed lali originally and after the course of time the name became longo. Some maintain that the idea of the very large wooden gong comes from Fiji. Whether the idea came from Fiji, or not, it is evident that the longo is a development from the smaller lali. The very large form became associated with churches to serve the function of church bells and the name of the type became longo. Whilst very large lali may have been made in the past, it is certain that in Samoa the manufacture was increased by the adherents of the new faith, each village desiring one for their church. The accomplishment of their desire was rendered possible by the use of steel tools. Throughout Samoa, the longo is "the Voice of God" that summons the people to worship. It is an old time voice, strengthened by modern methods, whose sound is used in the interests of a new faith.

The Samoan gong. As to whether there is a modification in structure between the Samoan gong nafa and the lali, it is difficult to say as no examples of the nafa were seen. An old man at Taputimu, Tutuila, reputed to be an expert player on the nafa, was commissioned to make one, but owing to his ill page 578health the nafa did not materialize. It was a dugout of wood belonging to the wooden gong class, but was played differently. Two sticks were used and various tunes and rhythms were produced by the expert who showed off his skill by beating the sticks together and tossing them in the air in time to the tune he was playing. Evidently a greater range of play was associated with the nafa than with the lali.

Many of the Tutuilan people claimed the instrument as a true Samoan one in distinction to the introduced lali. They spoke of it as tangafa, in which ta is a prefix meaning to beat and ngafa, an illustration of the modern tendency to mix up the ng and n sounds. Pratt (23, p. 221) gives nafa as a native drum but ngafa bears no similar meaning.

Stair (33, p. 135) refers to the nafa as a Samoan drum made of a hollowed log and now copied by the longo which he states was derived from Tonga; but the Tongan instrument is longer. He gives fa'a-alii as another name for the nafa, but the word should be fa'aali'i, which simply means to honor as a chief and thus designated the purpose of the instrument and not the instrument itself. In this usage, it bore a similar likeness to the Tongan lali which apparently it much resembled in form except that it was shorter.

From Stair's account it is obvious that some confusion exists regarding the words lali and longo and origins from Tonga and Fiji. It seems most likely that the distinction between lali and longo is of modern date, but that before the development of the large church longo, they were probably synonymous. Stair also bears out the contention that the nafa is the true Samoan gong and the others were introduced.