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Samoan Material Culture

Guild of builders

Guild of builders

The builders were called tufunga in general and tufunga fai fale in particular. In Savaii, a carpenter was also called poua. Besides houses, they built the better classes of canoes. As the houses were held to have been derived from the first house built by the group organized by Tangaloa, so the builders themselves derived their origin as craftsmen from the first group known as the Sa Tangaloa. The original group has widened out into what Handy (14, p. 15) has termed a carpenters' guild, claiming chiefly origin. All builders belong to the guild of Sa Tangaloa.

Within the guild itself, smaller groups or societies were formed who claimed origin from individual members of the original Sa Tangaloa. Originally they were direct members of his family (ainga). They became associated with particular high chiefs, and were thus called angai o tupu (the companions of kings). With increasing population and the wider spread of demands for expert housebuilding, the smaller societies increased in membership and spread from the immediate local association with particular chiefs to various villages throughout entire districts. The blood tie became practically page 85lost, but was theoretically maintained by admission into the family (ainga). In Samoan social organization in general, the blood tie weakened, and selection and election to various positions strengthened. Of the builders' societies within the guild, only one carries the name of a builder who figured prominently at the building of the first house. This is the ainga of Le Malama on the island of Tutuila. Manu fili, Luanga, and So'a-fa, who gave their names to parts of the building frame, were not further immortalized in building societies, while Sao, To, Le Ifi, Moe, Solofuti, Singi, and Tangavai-lenga, after whom societies are named, were not enumerated in the historic first gathering. It would seem likely, therefore, that as the craft spread societies were formed in other islands of the group that adopted ancestral patrons who were held to have figured in the original Sa Tangaloa. These societies became associated with particular districts, so that the whole group of islands was served. The names and districts obtained were as follows:

Ainga sa Sao—Manua Ainga sa Longo—Upolu
Ainga sa Le Malama—Tutuila Ainga sa Solofuti—Savaii
Ainga sa To—Tutuila Ainga sa Singi—Savaii
Ainga sa Le Ifi—Upolu, Atua Ainga sa Tangavai-lenga—Savaii
Ainga sa Moe—Upolu, Aana

Handy (14, p. 15) states that there are four major societies, of which Solofuti and Longo are the two most important. This, presumably, is for western Samoa, but in eastern Samoa the ainga of Le Malama and Sao give place to none in their respective districts.

The young men are apprenticed to experienced' builders, who are generally relatives. Thus they join the Society of the district in which they live. When they become expert they are admitted to full rank within the Society. Handy (14, p. 16) states that an important gathering is held to celebrate this admission of a new member. These gatherings take the form of a feast with ceremonial kava drinking, and the presentation of mats by the graduate to his instructor. The food is provided by the family of the newly elected member. This follows the usual Samoan custom of ceremonial feasting when a person is elected to the position of matai or chief. The new matai cannot take his official position in the ceremonial kava drinking in his own village or elsewhere until the election made by his family is publicly notified and ratified by a meeting of the chiefs of the village. The new matai takes his place against one of the posts of the round guest house. Speeches are made, and his title name is called with his cup of kava. From then on he is publicly recognized and known by his new title name.

A relative, or someone with sufficient confidence in the new builder, gives him a commission to build a house. In such a construction, he takes the position of head builder (latu). He appoints his assistants from his own page 86society. On the building he demonstrates his ability. By it he is judged by other prospective owners. There is thus the ever-present incentive not only to improve in technique but also to add something novel that will appeal to the public. When some variations were observed in houses I was informed that it was some particular builder's idea to make his house better than others, and thus get more to build. This spirit of competition probably has assisted largely in the evolution of the present round guest house.

Men of rank go into the builders' profession. In the Society they also hold their own rank in the outside world. The head builder in a contract is supreme head of his party. He is referred to ceremonially under three titles. He is the direct representative of the Sa Tangaloa, the companion of kings (angai o Tupu), and the personification of the ancestral head of his society group within the wider guild. If he belongs to the society of Sao, when he receives his cup of kava, the three titles are Sa Tangaloa, Angai o Tupu, Ainga sa Sao. He has an official talking chief (tulafale) to represent him in the ceremonial speeches and receiving of food and presents. The tulafale selected usually holds that rank in civil life. At one of the ceremonial feasts I attended, the taufale who made a speech was both talking chief and high chief. His rank was much higher than that of the builders' official talking chief. The builders, however, had in their party a man of very high rank, and he was selected to reply in place of the official talking chief of lesser rank.