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Samoan Material Culture

Traditional origin of the samoan house

Traditional origin of the samoan house

The craft of house-building, tradition relates, came direct from the god Tangaloa-matua. The first builders were convened by Tangaloa to consider the construction of a house. The assembly was named Sa Tangaloa (the page 83family of Tangaloa). The forest was searched for a large tree, from which a post was made and erected in an upright position. Hence it was named pou tu. The question of getting a cross-piece mounted on top of the post was discussed. The builder, Manufili, erected two forked posts, placed a cross-bar over them, and then lashed oblique timbers to the main crossbar. With smaller crossbars lashed to the oblique,.timbers steps were formed up which the ridgepole was carried and placed on the pou tu. In compliment to the builder, the scaffolding was named fata-a-Manufili, since contracted to fatamanu.

The ridgepole was named 'au'au from 'au'auina (servant), as the person who suggested it was a servant of Tangaloa. The builders then searched the forest for suitable timber. Breadfruit wood ('ulu) was brought in by Malama, and accepted in preference to others. As a reward Tangaloa allowed Malama to use a two-branched thatch rafter ('aso manga lua) in buildings erected by him. He also received the kava cup title of 'aso fausia (the lashed thatch rafter), for the branched rafter was formed by lashing a shorter element to a long one to form the branch. Both Malama and Manufili became tufunga muamua (original master builders).

The principal rafters (fatunga) were suggested by Malama. The main purlins were proposed by Tangaloa-matua, and hence called la'au matua after him. Thatch rafters were made of the breadfruit wood brought in by Malama. Intermediate purlins were proposed by Luanga and received his name. So'a-fa suggested the collar beams. They were thus named so'a. Originally there were four (fa) to a house. Sauluanga proposed the eave batten. Mata'afa proposed that sennit braid ('afa) should be used as lashing. An old song says that the builders from the sky had a discussion as to whether a house or a canoe should be built first. The decision went to the house and hence sennit was first used on a house.

In the rounded ends of the house the curb plate was set up first. The curved purlins (fau) were suggested by Malama. The fau tali 'aso arch near the ridgepole was the first erected. Then came the middle arch (fau tu) with one on either side of it called fau angai. The term angai means attendant. These angai were the original curved purlins, and hence the only ones with distinctive names. Others have since been introduced but have no individual names.

The above story was recited by Le Oso and other talking chiefs of Tutuila. They maintained that originally there was only one post supporting the ridgepole (pou tu) and that the house was therefore the fale tele (round house). It is difficult with traditions as now related to assess how much of the more recent has been projected into the past. Some days before, I had asked Le Oso if the pandanus leaf (lau fasa) had ever been used as thatch. A good deal of discussion took place showing doubt, but finally it was decided page 84that lau fasa had been used in ancient times. During the recital of the above tradition I was informed that the original builders had a long discussion as to whether pandanus leaf or sugar cane leaf should be used as thatch. I could not help thinking that, though my name had not been mentioned among those at the original meeting of carpenters, my question of a few days previous had been referred back by Le Oso to that august assembly, and his own doubt was expressed by the discussion that he alleged had taken place.

A matter-of-fact master builder in Manua expressed the opinion that the first house was a long house, and that the arched purlins used by the Sa Tangaloa were the one-piece split variety (fau sasae). From the review made of Samoan building technique, his contention is the more probable. Even if the craft entered Samoa from beyond the horizon (langi) with the principles of technique already established, the Manuan builders' theory is the more rational sequence of evolution, no matter where it took place.

The Samoan tendency to rationalize, as seen in their explanation of the names of their islands by identifying them with pairs of ancestors, is present in the Tutuilan tradition of the naming of the parts of the framework of the house. So'a-fa and Luanga are used in this convenient manner to give names to the collar beams and intermediate purlins. Yet such prominent builders disappeared without being perpetuated in the name of a building society. In addition, Luanga is so unknown in Savaii that the intermediate purlins are called pae'aso.

The first house built on earth by the Sa Tangaloa was named Faleula. Its site is to be seen at Fanga on the island of Tau in the Manuan group.