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Samoan Material Culture



The round guest house (fale tele) is essentially a fono house in which public meetings and the reception and entertainment of visitors take place. Inseparably connected with this is the ceremonial distribution of kava. In construction, two main requirements must be served; the rounded end sections brought closer together, and the side wall to the interior left unobstructed. To meet the first requirement, the long middle section of the fale afolau was reduced to a range of from 6 to 8 feet according to the size of the house. To meet the second requirement the lateral line of main posts near the front had to be removed. This could not be done without removing the rear line of main posts and thus the tie beam and king post method of supporting the ridgepole had to be abandoned. Recourse was had to the middle main post or to sunu'i method of support. (See plate I, C.)

Details of construction and technique, omitted from the description of the long house, will now be given. The processes will be taken in order, not only to draw attention to the human factors concerned, but to show how the principles of building became changed under the influence of a special building craft.

The main posts were sometimes of breadfruit, but failing this, ifi lele and pou muli were used. The long, principal rafters had to be of flexible wood, and coconut wood was always selected. The wall posts were unimportant. For all other elements of the framework, such as straight, curved, and intermediate purlins, wall plate, curb plate, and thatch rafters, the material was breadfruit wood. The old breadfruit trees that had ceased to bear well were the most suitable for building material. The thatch was of sugar cane leaf pinned together over a thin rod to form sheets. When sugar cane was not available the leaflets of the coconut palms were used with a similar technique. All lashings of a permanent nature were of sennit braid while fau bark was used for the scaffolding.

The builders were responsible for the skilled work in preparing the woodwork and erecting the frame. The erection of the wall posts and the thatching of the roof was beneath their dignity. A few wall posts deemed necessary as struts might be erected and lashed but the others were left out.

The owner (taufale) was responsible for all material and transport to the house site. One of the builders selected the trees suitable for the main posts. The family of the taufale cut them down in the forest and dragged and carried them to the site. When the posts were very large and at considerable dis-page 23tance, the carrying party (auamo) had to be requisitioned from the males of the entire village. For their food and refreshment, the taufale was responsible.

The women folk of the family of the taufale made the thatch sheets. They carried the leaves down from the plantations, and carried on their work while the timber was being prepared. The shifting of heavy timbers and the erection of the scaffolding was done by the party of the taufale. They also thatched the roof and completed the fitting in of the wall posts.

Where more suitable timber was on the property of another person, the builder told the taufale to ask the owner for it. The special term fa'aune was used—fa'aune mai le la'au (ask for the timber). To fa'aune involved extra expense on the taufale.

After a preliminary gift to the head builder, the builder and the taufale met ceremonially; a contract defining their mutual relationship during building operations was verbally made, agreed to, and sealed with the kava ceremony.

The builders, after being mobilized, were assigned to a house in the village for their occupation. They brought nothing except their own clothing and the carpenters' tools (fa'atufunganga). The tools consist, in these days, of hatchet heads and plane blades hafted to short handles as adzes. The plane blades range in size and all are lashed to the hafts with sennit braid in a manner similar to the old stone adzes.

The rough carpenter's shed (fale ta) was erected near the house site. It contained no equipment in the way of benches. The preparation of timber took place on the ground. Saws are rarely used, but carpenters' planes are now in requisition. Plans, paper and pencils are not used even now. The builder carries the plan in his head and it develops with the building. Charcoal takes the place of carpenters' pencils. The longer measurements are judged by eye, and a piece of sennit braid takes the place of measuring tape and rule. The builders are not restricted by exact measurements calculated out beforehand, but problems of measurement are met as they occur.

The regular meals, drinking nuts, and kava are all provided by the taufale Some of his family are constantly in attendance to administer to the creature needs of the builders. The taufale himself spends a considerable part of his time in the carpenters' shed winding the large coils of sennit braid into the smaller working hanks used by the builders, and chatting and gossiping to demonstrate his interest in the builders' welfare. It requires a good diplomat to ensure the smooth progress of the work.

Ground plan. The ground plan of Tufele's round house at Fitiuta, Tau (fig. 10) gives an idea of the ground dimensions of a fair sized house. In the middle section (itu), the wall plate on one side is 7 feet, 6 inches, and 4 inches shorter on the other side. The two end sections (tala) also differ by page 241 foot 1 inch. In an architect's plan such differences would lead to complications in calculations, but to the Samoan builders, without calculations, such differences caused no trouble whatever. The greatest length of the house is
Figure 10.—Ground plan of round house (fale tele).

Figure 10.—Ground plan of round house (fale tele).

the middle longitudinal line between the middle posts of the end sections; the greatest width is across the middle section from side to side. In the largest round house seen at Iva in Savaii, the measurements were 54 feet, 8 inches by 45 feet, 6 inches. The reduced middle section still retains the name of itu (side). Though it loses in length it gains in width from the greater spread of the roof which is higher than in long houses. The part facing the street is luma (front), and the opposite, tua (back). The round house is always built with its long diameter parallel with the village street. The two end sections continue to bear the name tala.
Figure 11.—a, method of raising posts into position by rope passed over scaffolding cross beam; b, continuation of construction:

Figure 11.—a, method of raising posts into position by rope passed over scaffolding cross beam; b, continuation of construction:

Scaffolding for middle section of house: 1, forked uprights (to'o manga); 2, horizontal cross bar (la'au fa'alava); 3, rope; 4, main supporting posts; 5, forked struts; 6, oblique pairs of timber; 7, horizontal cross pieces (papani or teleteleanga).

Scaffolding. For larger dwelling houses and guest houses a proper scaffolding (fatāmanu) is erected before construction commences. The name is derived from fata (a raised shelf or support), and Manu (a member of the original guild constituted by Tangaloa-matua). In Tutuila, Manu was said to have suggested the scaffolding, but in Manua, he was said to have held page 25that a house could be built without one. Hence the saying for projects that have no hope of success: "Ai o Manu e le tau" (like Manu, it will not arrive at anvthing). Whichever way it was Manu has had his name handed down in the scaffolding that he either proposed or despised, for fatamanu is a contraction of fata-a-manu (scaffolding of Manu).

The scaffolding, erected by the owner's family, was made on set lines based on the construction of the roof of the to sunu'i type of building.

The position of the main posts of the projected house were marked by the master builder on the site indicated by the owner. To one side of the line to be occupied by the main supporting posts, and corresponding with the ends of the middle section, two long, forked uprights (to'o manga) were set up in the ground. Their height was about 3.5 feet less than the proposed height of the ridgepole from the ground. (See fig. 11.) A horizontal crossbar (la'au fa'alava) was laid over the forked ends like a ridgepole. Before the scaffolding was completed the main supporting posts of the house were erected, but not permanently. The holes were dug, the posts carried to them, and the butt end of one placed at the edge of a hole. A rope was tied round the post toward its upper end, and passed over the scaffolding cross beam. The post was raised gradually at its top end by men lifting it; forked struts placed under it while a party on the end of the rope kept it taut. In this way, the posts were gradually raised into a perpendicular position and worked into the holes. When the three, or whatever the number, were raised, the scaffolding construction was continued.

Three oblique pairs of timbers (fig. 11b) were rested against the crossbar like rafters. Their lower ends rested on the ground just beyond where the wall posts would come. In the figure they are rather too upright. The oblique timbers are termed fata vala in Tutuila and fata sasau in Manua. Horizontal cross pieces (papani or teleteleanga) were lastly tied to the oblique timbers to act as steps or rungs from which the builders could reach every part of the framework as it was being constructed. The main supporting posts of the house were then held perpedicular and lashed in position either to the ridgepole or to a more convenient cross piece.

The scaffolding described is the set type for the middle section of long or round houses. In the long house, it is made to agree in length with the section being built. The upright forked posts, with a ridgepole, oblique rafters-like structures, and purlin-like cross pieces, is merely a roof framework within a framework. The scaffolding for the rounded end sections was not put up until it was needed. The lashings of the scaffolding were made throughout of long strips of fau bark about two inches wide. The material was provided in bundles by the owner's family. The lashing followed the set form shown in figure 12.

Figure 12.—Lashing of the scaffolding:

Figure 12.—Lashing of the scaffolding:

a, fixation of lashing; b, lashing in oblique turns around two wooden elements; c, final circumferential turn of strip around lashing between wooden, elements: 1, oblique timber, fixed wooden element; 2, single overhand running noose or slip knot; 3, cross piece.

page 26

One end of the strip is passed round the fixed element (the oblique timbers in figure 11b) and tied round itself with a single overhand knot. This forms a running noose or slip knot which is the orthodox commencement of most Samoan lashings whether temporary or permanent, and it will be referred to throughout as the running noose commencement. The noose is drawn taut at the exact spot required on the stationary timber, and the cross piece is placed in position. A number of oblique turns are then made in the one direction round the two wooden elements. (See. fig. 12b.) In making these turns, the strip is drawn taut with the right hand, which may be assisted by the weight of the body. When sufficiently tight, the left thumb holds the strip against the wood while the right hand passes the strip round the timber. This method is quick and effective, and demands that one end of the binding material be first fixed so that only a single strip demands the attention of the two hands. Two or three turns are usually sufficient. The last step (fig. 12c) consists of making one or more turns round the lashings between the two wooden elements as indicated by the arrows in the figure. Before the last circumferential turn is tightened (fig. 12c), the strip end is passed under it. The turn is drawn taut and further tightened by pulling the end not in the direction of the arrows, but back in the opposite direction. These circumferential turns (langolango) are always used to tighten up the lashing.

The term fa'atunga means the causing to stand upright. It applies to the erection of the main posts and marks an important stage in construction which in all important houses must be celebrated by feasting. The term fa'atunga thus applies to the ceremonial giving of food, and feasting, as well as the official erection of the main posts. I was fortunate enough to see the full ceremonial in connection with the building of the house of Misa, high chief of the island of Ofu.

The proceedings opened with the special morning meal termed (lavatasi). The working party of the taufale appeared and assisted by lifting the main posts to the right level indicated by the builders. This was done by tying two horizontal bars to the post at right angles with each other. The laborers got their shoulders under the bars and lifted while another laborer shoveled stones and earth under the post, which was then held vertical while the sides of the hole were filled in and rammed tight. The builders directed operations from the top of the scaffolding. Of the three main posts, the two outer ones were fixed first. A crossbar was then laid over their upper ends. The middle post was lowered until its upper end touched the crossbar. It was held in this position until fixed by filling the hole. The scaffolding was so made that the uppermost crossbar or one of the cross pieces was in the upright line of the main posts. The upper ends of the main posts were lashed to it before the filling of the holes was commenced. The erection took place at about midday. Meanwhile the food had been prepared. The workers and builders retired to their respective parties and the fa'atunga ceremony took place.

Owing to the short length of ridgepole to be supported, it is not necessary to have the support at each end as in the to sumu'i buildings. One strong, massive post (fig. 13a) is quite common. In quite a small guest house, the single post was 46 inches in circumference near the ground. Some are forked (manga lua) with the branching close to the ridgepole (fig. 13b). A very page 27large post of this type seen at Taputimu in Tutuila was 56 inches in circumference at the floor level. Others branch lower down (fig. 13c), while in Savaii a very low branching fork (fig. 13d) was quite common. Some houses have two main posts but three (fig. 13e) was as common as the single post. More than three posts were said to be used on occasion. The main posts are sometimes referred to as to'o loto (interior prop.)

Figure 13.—Types of supporting posts of round house:

Figure 13.—Types of supporting posts of round house:

a, single, massive post; b, forked type (manga lua); c, type branching lower down; d, very low branching fork; e, type with three main posts.

Of the three posts in Misa's house, the middle one was 48 inches in circumference near the ground and the other two, 37.5 and 33 inches respectively. They were placed 20 inches and 19 inches apart so that the ground distance covered by the three posts was 6 feet, 6.5 inches. Thus there was less than a foot of the ridgepole projecting at either end. The posts were 25 feet, 2.5 inches above the ground. The house site was an old one in which the house platform was already complete. In a new house site, the depth of the platform to be erected has to be added to the height of the main posts above the ground level. In the large round house at Iva, the main posts were 32 feet above the floor level which in turn was 6.5 feet above ground level. The main posts, including the parts sunk in the ground, must therefore have been over 40 feet in length.