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Samoan Material Culture



Trumpets (pu) may be made of shell or of wood. In Samoa two types of shell trumpets were used and a doubtful type of wooden instrument. The shell trumpets have the name of their particular shells, but when a hole is bored into them, they become pu from the Samoan word pu, meaning a hole page 579This derivation of pu, while satisfactory in the Samoan dialect, may not be acceptable to the many other Polynesian dialects in which pu is used to denote trumpets.

Triton shell trumpet (pu faofao). The faofao is the widely used Cynatium tritonis with a hole a little over 0.5 inches in diameter chipped through the third whorl from the end. (See Plate L, A, 4.) No mouthpieces of wood were used, the trumpeter applying his mouth directly to the shell. The sound carries a considerable distance. The trumpets were used on the canoes returning from deep sea fishing to announce not so much their return, as the fact that they had made a good catch. They were also used by travelling parties voyaging by canoe to warn the villages of their coming, and to make a display. War parties also used the shell trumpet.

Cassis shell trumpet (pu foafoa). The foafoa is Cassis comuta and to make the trumpet the apical whorls are cut off. (See Plate L, A, 5.) The foafoa is found more commonly in Samoa than the faofao. According to a head fisherman at Papa, Savaii, the foafoa were fished for on the sandy sea bottom outside the reef. A bait consisting of the cooked underground stem of the ti was weighted with stones and let down to the bottom. This attracted the shell fish which came to feed on the cooked ti. The fisherman returned and if the shell fish had been attracted they could be seen from the surface. He then dived for them. The faofao was also caught in this manner but not so often.

The pu foafoa is used for the same purposes as the Triton shell trumpet. In modern times, the shell trumpet forms the official announcing instrument of the village magistrate (pulenu'u). Any regulation or by-law is promulgated amongst a meeting of chiefs who are called together by a crier sounding the trumpet as he passes through the village and calling the place and time of the meeting. It has become a habit on hearing the sound of the trumpet to listen for the announcement which follows. One morning a week the trumpet may be heard followed by an exhortation to the various families to go forth and bring in their quota of rhinoceros beetle to the village magistrate, which the law demands as a measure for suppressing the pest. Thus the shell trumpet has merged with the elements of the new culture, and seems assured of a prolonged period of activity.

Wooden trumpet (fa'aili niuvao). Stair (33, p. 135) describes a fa'a-ili-niu-vao as a pipe producing louder sounds than the various smaller pipes or whistles. "It was formerly much used by parties of warriors on their march, or at their general musterings and reviews—aungaau." The niu vao from which it is made is one of the Samoan wild palms.