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Samoan Material Culture

House furnishings

page 71

House furnishings

Shelves. Associated with the woodwork of the house are certain elements which from their function, may be regarded as shelves. They differ from the accepted idea of shelves in being formed of beams or poles instead of boards. Fairly wide spaces may be present between the wooden elements. The woodwork used as shelves may be divided into three kinds; talitali, so'a collar beams, and fata.

The talitali are two special cross beams lashed horizontally to the main posts of a round house. They are placed about 2 feet below the lower tier of collar beams and run at right angles to the collar beams. Where there is more than one main post they are lashed to each post. (See fig. 55.)

Figure 55.—Shelf and hanger (talitali):

Figure 55.—Shelf and hanger (talitali):

the figure shows the talitali (1) lashed to the three main posts (2) of the house of Timu, a talking chief of Safotu in Savaii. The two crossbeams are dubbed out into thick, wide planks extending to the outside edges of the two outer posts and beyond that curving slightly upwards to form blunt points. One is attached on either side of the posts and lashed to each post in much the same manner as two-collar beams to a middle main post (figure 31). The lashings form decorative designs on either side of the talitali plank and in this figure a different design is associated with each post.

The talitali is always attached by the expert builders as part of their contract. The two parallel arms of the talitali are used as a shelf on which baskets or other objects are laid transversely. Baskets may also be hung over the pointed ends. Additional talitali are sometimes seen higher up on the posts.

The horizontal so'a cross beams form important shelves upon which bundles of mats, bark cloth and house property are stored. As three main posts require a set of four collar beams, a shelf at least 6 feet in width is for provided. (See fig. 56.)

In long houses, the upper tiers of collar beams may be utilised as a shelf for articles not often required but as they form a rather narrow shelf, it is usual to place two or more longitudinal poles or beams upon them sufficiently spaced apart to form a wider shelf. There is no need to lash them together. More than one set of tiers may be used if the wealth of the family requires it.

The fata is a special platform of poles that usually stretches between the page 72wall plate and the supporting posts. They naturally differ in the round house and the, long house from the different position of the supporting posts.

Figure 56.— Collar beam shelves — view from underneath:

Figure 56.— Collar beam shelves — view from underneath:

1, four collar beams lashed at the outer ends to the purlin (2) and the middle to the three main posts (3). The shelf may be improved by lashing a cross piece (4) to the upper surfaces of the beams on either side of the main posts.

In a round house at Fangasa, Tutuila, cross beams rested on the talitali at their inner ends and on the wall plate of the back wall at their outer ends. To doubly secure the outer ends, special posts were set on either side of the outer beams. A crossbar that passed beneath the beams was lashed to the two special posts.

In a long house at Safotu, Savaii, the fata was made as in figure 57.

Figure 57.—Fata shelf in a long house:

Figure 57.—Fata shelf in a long house:

1, short horizontal cross rods; 2, wall plate; 3, supporting posts; 4, tie beams in cross section; 5, longitudinal poles forming the shelf; 6, wall posts; 7, main plate. Short horizontal cross rods are rested at their outer ends on the wall plate while their inner ends are lashed to the supporting posts. Long poles are then rested longitudinally on the cross rods to form the shelf.

Figure 58.—Water bottle shelf:

Figure 58.—Water bottle shelf:

1, wall posts; 2, horizontal poles; 3, coconut shell water containers. Two horizontal poles are tied, one on either side of two wall posts. The space between the poles forms a support for the water containers.

In both types of fata, the level was the upper surface of the wall plate and thus within easy reach. The fata was used for storing plaited food trays and the articles in everyday use. The talitali and fata were service shelves whilst the higher collar beam shelves which had to be reached by a ladder were store shelves.

Another special shelf (sasanga) was used to support coconut shell water bottles. (See fig. 58.)

For small objects, the upper surface of the wall and curb plates as they slope back to meet the thatch rafters forms a good shelf. Objects are also placed on the top of the wall posts.

page 73

Wall screens (pola). Dwelling and guest houses are not complete without sets of wall screens which pass completely round the house and can be raised or lowered at will. They are never used with cooking houses.

The screen mats are formed of plaited, half coconut leaves. (See p. 176.) Before plaiting, the leaves are cut so that their length will overlap two wall posts. The plaited depth is a foot or slightly more. Of the two long edges, one is formed by the split leaf midrib and the other by the thick three-ply braid finish of the plaiting. The mats are hung in sets from the wall plate to cover the distance between it and the floor. Allowing for overlap, it takes from six to eight mats to each set, which forms a vertical panel of the width of one mat and covers the space between two wall posts. The mats are supported at their upper edges by two continuous sennit cords spaced equidistant between the middle line and the side edges.

The method of attachment to the wall plate is shown in figure 59.

Figure 59.—Attachment of wall screens:

Figure 59.—Attachment of wall screens:

a, view from inside house. The two sennit cords are first tied to the wall plate (1) by the usual running noose commencement (2). The top sheet of the set always has the midrib edge (3) upwards. The braid is passed around the midrib from without in and then tied to its loop around the wall plate by two half hitches which form a clove hitch (4). The figure shows the braid loose, but in actual practice all loops are drawn taut, b, With both cords (5) tied, the top sheet is securely slung where the overlap on the two wall posts (6) is seen. The succeeding sheets are attached with their braided edges (7) upwards. The two cords (5) are brought down over the inner surface of the top sheet, passed behind the braided upper edge (7) of the second sheet, and brought through it below the braids from without inwards. The sheet is adjusted to slightly overlap the lower edge of the top sheet which is to the outside of it. The cords are pulled taut to this position and held against the upper edge of the second sheet by the left hand. c, The right hand passes the braid around its standing part from right; to left behind it, and passes it through the loop formed. The knots are drawn taut, and the sheet secured as in (b). The other sheets are attached in the same way. A fourth sheet so attached is shown in the figure. The cord (8) is tied to the wall plate above the middle of the sheet. It is passed outwards above the top sheet so that it hangs down behind the sheets.

The sheets of the panel in figure 59b are shown overlapping the two wall posts on their outer side. Thus, as the wind blows in towards the house, the wall screens are let down on that side, and the overlap against the posts prevents them from being blown inside. When let down, the screens form the walls of the house. The closeness of the wall posts is accounted for by the page 74support they give the screens. Thus they eventually carry out their proper function of supporting side wall's even though they be of plaited coconut leaf. The panels are all attached in the same way, and adjusted so that the side edges of contiguous panels have a slight overlap.

To raise the panels, the lowest sheet is lifted from the inside of the house by placing the hands under the lower edge and catching the lower edges of the other sheets behind as it is raised upwards. The middle cord (fig. 59b, 8) which is behind, is brought forward under the sheets and looped round its upper end near the wall plate with a couple of half hitches. It may be necessary at times to push out an adjacent panel to clear the overlapping edges. To let down the panel the middle cord is simply unhitched, and the panel straightens out with its own weight.

The adjustable screen panels make the Samoan house eminently suited to the tropics. When there is no strong wind or rain, all the panels are raised. The high thatched roof is much cooler than corrugated iron, and the open walls make them much superior to plank houses in hot weather. As sleeping-porches, they are as good, if not better, than those devised by higher cultures.

The plaited screen sheet is called pola in general, and pola sisi in particular. Sometimes a sheet works loose and falls outside (tau fafo). Anything of little importance is idiomatically referred to as a pola tau fafo, the screen which drops outside.

Fireplace. Though cooking was done in a separate house, fires were on occasion used in the dwelling and guest houses. A hearth (ta'ingafi) was formed on the floor by imbedding a number of waterworn stones on edge where the shape permitted to enclose a small square or rectangular shallow depression. This was the ta'ingaafi (from ta'i, to tend, and afi, fire), also avangalafu.

In houses not occupied for some time, a fire was lighted to clear away any mouldy smell. It was also used for lighting purposes. At a school festival in a guest house on Manua, the pupils, after singing, challenged the visitors to respond. A Samoan teacher sitting beside me said, "The fire is coming over here." This curious phrase was later explained. When visitors were entertained at night, a fire was lighted to illuminate the dances that were given. The fire was toward the part occupied by the performers. When the visitors' turn came to respond in like manner, the fire was shifted to a fire-place in their end of the house in order that their performance might be seen. When the dancing alternated between the two ends, the fire alternated likewise.

Lighting. In addition to the light of a fire, other forms were used that were referred to as moli, which has now come to mean a lamp. There are two forms of moli.

page 75

The term moli means coconut oil, but any doubt is prevented by using the term pôpô (mature coconut) to qualify it. Coconut oil was prepared from the flesh of the mature nut. The receptacle was formed of the half of a mature coconut with the flesh left in to protect the shell from the heat. The wick of dry coconut leaflet midrib (tuaniu) was wrapped round with a strip of thin undyed bark cloth. The midrib end was stuck upright in the flesh at the bottom of the nut.

The expression moli lama, is candlenut light. The candlenuts, cooked in small baskets on the leaf covered hot stones of an earth oven, were cracked to extract the kernels. Ten to twelve kernels were threaded on a dry coconut leaflet midrib, ana stuck in the ground or bent over a stone or half coconut shell. The end kernel was lighted and the others caught alight in turn. An attendant revolved the midrib from time to time to ensure the nuts burning evenly. Both the candlenut tree and the nut are called lama.

Floor mats. Part of the essential equipment is a sufficient number of floor mats to cover the whole floor space. When the guest house is not in use, the mats are rolled up and stacked on the shelves. When a few people enter to rest or talk, sufficient mats are taken down to cover the part that is occupied. The Samoans do not sit on the bare gravel, neither do they usually cover the parts of the floor that are not occupied. On ceremonial occasions, and when guests occupy the house, the whole floor area is covered.

Floor mats consist of three kinds: polavai or tapa'au, made of coconut leaf, papa, coarse strips of pandanus, and fala, narrower strips of a different kind of pandanus.

The polavai are laid directly on the coarse gravel floor, and the papa and fala above them. The papa mats are also called paongo from the name of the pandanus, and they sometimes take the place of the coconut leaf mats. The fala also takes its name from the fala pandanus. The manufacture is described under Plaiting.

The mats average about 6 feet in length and 3 feet in width, though larger ones are made. They are spread with the length parallel with the house walls. If a chief wishes to stretch his legs from the cross-legged position strictly demanded by etiquette, he pulls a floor mat over his feet and legs. Such an action prevents a breach of good manners.

The set of mats for a new house is plaited by the women of the chief's family (ainga), but on occasion he may get them elsewhere by taking advantage of a curious custom.