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Samoan Material Culture

Religious Objects

Religious Objects

The acceptance of the teachings of Christianity has been so marked, and extended over such a long period, that information in the field regarding ancient religious regalia and sacred objects is difficult to obtain and lacking in detail. The Samoans have been influenced by teachers of their own race to become ashamed of ancient religious practices and to purposely deny even a theoretical knowledge.

Stone structures. Various natural stone formations that have religious or superstitious significance have been mentioned. Anything in the nature of the stone marae of Tahiti or the stone heiau of Hawaii was conspicuous by the absence of material and of information. It did not exist. The stone house of the Octopus has been discussed on page 324.

Wooden temples. The use of wooden houses with a thatched roof as a religious structure is discussed on page 70.

Sacred objects. Besides a material incarnation in some animal, bird, or fish, some of the Samoan gods seem to have had a material representative of some kind that was kept in the temple, treated with care, and consulted.

Turner (41, pp. 23-35) gives a number of these as follows:

God Represented by
Aitu langi Large shell
Faamalu Trumpet shell
Le Fee White shell (Cypraea ovula)
Large wooden bowl (lipi)
White bark cloth
Mao ma Uli Two teeth of sperm whale
Moso Large wooden bowl with white shells

A number of other gods had similar representations. The material objects were kept in the village temple.

A number of other stones representing gods were situated near particular villages and offerings placed on them at particular times, or when passing. Owing to some historical incident associated with ancestors who became gods, certain objects, such as plaited coconut leaves, coconut leaf baskets, and white bark cloth, were worn or treated with respect as being the symbol of the gods.

page 614

Idols. The objects representing the gods mentioned above were not carved in any way to represent a human figure or god. Any object considered the representation of the god obtained sanctity and power by association of ideas.

A carved wooden idol is figured by Kramer (18, vol. 2, p. 207) from the object presented to the British Museum in 1841. It is in human form with inset eyes, but in spite of its age and its source, it does not appear very convincing. Judd (17, p. 11) records a story of an idol of wood, about 1 foot long with large eyes and mouth, kept in a small box in the house of a Leone chief. It was exhibited on rare occasions and was seen by Judd's informant when a child. Idols may have been made but if so, few have escaped into the kindly refuge of museums.