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Samoan Material Culture



Necklaces of various kinds come under the general term of 'ula. They were made of flowers, leaves, fruit, seeds, shells, and whale ivory.

Flowers. The flowers generally used were those of the mosooi (Canangium odoratum), pua (Plumiera), langa'ali (Aglaia), singano (male Pandanus flower), suni (Phaloria burnettianes), pipi, moa fa'i (petals of banana flower), pualulu, teuila (ginger), nu'anu'a (Nelitris vitiensis), and 'alo'alo (flower of ngatae, Erythrina indica).

The flowers or the petals are threaded on to a strip of fau bast to the end of which a piece of coconut leaflet midrib is attached as a needle. It is usual to space the flowers with scented leaves and much time is spent in blending various flowers and leaves. The girls of the family and the village taupou not only make the 'ula for themselves but also for the guests who happen to be staying with them. Any festivity or ceremonial occasion is marked by the wearing of flower necklaces.

Leaves. The lau maile (Alyxia) is a favorite material. The maile vine is picked and the bark together with the leaves removed from the wood. A fern (langasese) and a strong-smelling shrub (usi, Evodia hortensis) are among those used.

Fruit. Of fruits, fala (pandanus fruit keys) is the most popular. In Tutuila, the 'ula fala seemed the favorite decoration of talking chiefs and I was frequently decorated with them after the speeches were concluded as a mark of attention from one talking chief to another. The polo and poloite which, includes both Solanum and Capsicum and matalafi, a smaller Capsicum were much used. The seasea (Eugenia sp.), sea (Parinarium insularum) and one or two of the fairly large fruit of the oli (Eugenia neurocalyx) were also used interspaced with flowers and leaves. Flowers, leaves, and fruit, formed perishable necklaces used for the one occasion and hence selected from the material available on that occasion.

Seeds. Red seeds (lopa) were much in use so that lopa is also used as a name for necklaces made of seeds. Another red seed used is the matamosi-mosi. The dark seed in the fruit of the pu'a (Hernandia peltata), the dark seeds of the Tantania, and the river reed (sangasanga) are also used.

Shells. Land shells (sisi vao), sea shells (sisi tai), and fresh-water shells (sisi vai) of various kinds are used. Of the sea shells, the small cowries (pule) and a spiral shell (pangea) are among those used.

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Holes were formerly bored through seeds with a sharp thorn and through shells with the drill. These necklaces are more permanent and are often taken from island to island. Both seeds and shells if obtained from necklaces do not necessarily belong to the island where the necklace was procured. Natives themselves may perpetuate an error by saying the shells are obtainable on their island from a resemblance to a local species.

Whale ivory necklaces. The most valuable of all necklaces ('ula) were those made of whale ivory (lei) and hence called 'ula lei. (See Plate LIV, D, 2.) The material was obtained from whales teeth which were ground down into long curved, pointed pendants. Those in the necklace figured range in length from 3.3 inches at the sides to 5.6 inches in the middle, without allowing for the curve. The greatest width is from 0.4 to 0.5 inches. The thick end is cut off at a slant towards the concave side. All are curved and brought to a long slender point. In section they are fairly round. They are bored through transversely about 0.3 inches from the thick end and in such a way, that when strung on a cord, the concave sides are all on the same surface. The method of attaching to the cord is shown in figure 325.

Figure 325.—Whale tooth necklace lashing:

Figure 325.—Whale tooth necklace lashing:

a, the cord (1) is composed of four smaller cords which are passed through the holes in the pendants. The cord (2) is a single cord the same size as the other four. It is knotted to the passive cord (1) near the first pendant (3). The active cord (2) makes a figure-of-eight turn around the ends of the passive cord (1) and over the back or convex side of the pendants. Hence in the figure it crosses the back of the pendant (3) to the left of the passive cord on the near side, passes under it to the right, crosses obliquely back to the left of the passive cord on the far side, and then passes under it. b, After the first figure-of-eight fixing the first pendant (3), the active cord passes over two pendants (3 and 4) to the left of the passive cord on the near side of (4) and passes under it to the right. c, From the right, the active cord completes the figure of eight by crossing diagonally over the new pendant (4) to the left of the passive cord on the far side and passes under it to the right. d, The technique is established. After completing the figure-of-eight turn on one pendant, the active cord crosses two pendants and completes the figure of eight on the newly added pendant of the pair.

After the last pendant is fixed, the cords are knotted. The necklace is hung round the neck by the cord. The convex surfaces of the pendants rest against the breast and the points project outwards from the body.

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By making the figure-of-eight turns over the back of the pendants, the lashing is not noticeable when the necklace is worn. The necklace is worn by high chiefs and the village maid when in full dress regalia. An 'ula lei necklace is really essential to complete the costume on dress occasions.