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Samoan Material Culture



End posts. The rectangular house with the ridgepole supported by end posts is regarded as characteristic of eastern Polynesia. This trait is omitted for Samoa in Linton's list (p. 449). Attention has been drawn to the to sunu'i type of Samoan house which shows that the ridgepole supported by end posts was also an old type of Samoan construction.

Rounded ends. The rounded ends or apses, now characteristic of Samoan houses, have been shown to have been obtained in the simple form by parallel principal rafters laid between the end rafters of the middle section and a curved wall plate. In the Cook and Society islands, the rounded end was page 666obtained by end rafters radiating like a fan between a short crossbar below the end of the main ridgepole and the curved wall plate. In the more specialized Samoan apses, the principal end rafters were discarded entirely and the thatch rafters were supported by curved purlins. The curved arches so formed were erected parallel to the middle arch which bisected the rounded end transversely. In the poorer houses, the arched purlins were formed of long single split poles; in the better houses, they were formed of short rounded sections fitted together with special joints carrying interlocking projections (lave). In the better houses of the Society Islands, the rounded ends retain the radiating principal rafters, and if purlins are used, they are horizontal with the curb plate. The parallel oblique arches with the lave locking joint are unknown. The Samoan apse is curved longitudinally as well as transversely by arranging the heights of the transverse arches. The Society Islands apse is curved transversely but owing to the use of straight, stiff, radiating principal rafters, there is no longitudinal curve. Technically there is not the slightest affinity between the Samoan and Society Island apses.

Rounded houses. The round house has been listed for the South Island of New Zealand but no technical details are available. The neighboring Chatham Islands, the material culture of which according to Skinner (31, p. 133) has affinity with the South Island culture, has had a round house described in which the rafters evidently radiated from a central post. This type of architecture is unknown in Samoa. There is no true round house in Samoa for the guest house, usually designated as such, is an approximation of the round ends of a long house by shortening the middle rectangular section.

Roof framework. The roof of the middle section of Samoan houses is curved by using thin flexible rafters of coconut wood. The horizontal purlins are on the inside of the rafters. As the rafters are hung from the ridge-pole and the purlins braced apart by collar beams, the wall plate plays a minor part and the wall posts are put in last. In the Society Islands roof, the wall plate is important and must be fixed to the top of the wall posts before the straight stiff rafters can be stretched between the ridgepole and the wall plate. The purlins are then added on the outside of the principal rafters. The slope of the roof is straight.

Furniture. The wooden seats with four legs cut out of the solid which are characteristic of the Society and Cook groups are absent in Samoa. In Samoa, the bamboo pillow supported on inverted v-shaped legs is in common use.

The rectangular house with the ridgepole supported by end posts, with straight, rigid principal rafters supported by the ridgepole and a wall plate, with wall posts that have to be put in to support the wall plate before the page 667rafters can be added, and with the purlins resting on the outside of the rafters, is characteristic of eastern Polynesian culture. This framework technique was known in Samoa and is still used in the less pretentious middle sections of the poorer houses. In the better class Samoan houses, the simpler technique gave way to the curved roof with rounded ends which tradition attributes to an introduced technique developed by a special guild of builders.

In eastern Polynesian culture, the rectangular framework retained the technique of the original form. The technique of the rounded ends is so entirely different in form and details that it cannot possibly be regarded as a diffusion from Samoa. The alleged similarity between Samoa and the Society Islands in this culture trait does not exist in fact. The similarity between Samoa and South Island of New Zealand as regards round houses cannot be argued without technical detail but if the structural principle of the Chatham Islands round house applies, there can be no affinity.