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Samoan Material Culture



Samoan methods of producing sound were materialized in instruments which display no great effort at craftsmanship yet they met the needs of the various age groups within the community. Children derived pleasure from the sounds produced by the jew's harp, whistles, and toy bull roarers, all of which were easily made from the leaves of plants. Adolescents expressed the yearnings of their age in the love songs played on simple bamboo flutes, while adults obtained a range of notes from the more carefully made Pan's pipes. Chiefs, as was their wont, maintained the distinction of class by monopolizing the sounding board.

Community needs in the dance were met by the mat bundle and bamboo rods, with which rhythmic sound produced by beating time was the essential factor. The material instruments had no special status and are thus being readily replaced by the empty benzine tin. Special craftsmanship expended its skill on the nafa gong. The gong stimulated emulation in the way of skill and introduced extra movements for the sake of display. The gong attracted the attention of the chiefs and was evidently on the way to join the sounding board as a class monopoly.

Before the advent of the pate, lali, and longo types of gongs, their functions of calling the community together must have been exercised by the nafa. It was a stationary instrument for the carrying of gongs in canoes is attributed page 582to the Tongans. The movable instrument for making announcements was the trumpet. The trumpet had high social status for it was associated with position, rank, and power. The tautai head fisherman coming in from the sea with a successful catch of shark, the travelling party grouped around a chief of rank, and the army of attack were all heralded by blasts of the trumpet. The trumpet called into activity the full resources of social organization and the village was galvanized into action that resulted in laughter or in tears.

The absence of the nose flute and the skin drum mark a gap in Samoan culture. Though the bamboo flute and Pan's pipes have now disappeared with their simple scale of Samoan instrumental music, it is interesting to note the survival of various sounding instruments which have been assigned new functions in the changing culture. The pate gong calls the children to school, the pu trumpet announces the edicts of the Government, and the loud boom of the longo calls the faithful to prayer. The instruments of a neolithic age are being exercised on behalf of the education, law, and religion of the new culture and the appeal is expressed in the forms of sound associated with the past which the Samoan people are called upon to forget.