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Samoan Material Culture



An attendant now comes forward with the kava cup and stooping down holds it over the bowl. The maid lifts up the saturated strainer above the cup and allows the kava to stream into it until it is about half full. The attendant must always be stripped to the waist in formal kava drinking. He straightens himself up, and holding the cup about shoulder high, awaits directions. The chief who distributes (fa'asoasoa) then calls (tapa) the name of the chief to whom the cup is to be served. If the attendant hesitates, it is usual for the chief named to clap his hands, slap his thigh, Or say something to indicate his position to the cupbearer. The cupbearer should always take the longest way around to the chief whom he serves. Thus, if the chief named is on the left side of the house, the bearer walks around the right side of the central supporting posts of the ridge and then towards the chief, to approach by a short cut from the same side of the supporting posts is poor form and shows that the cupbearer has not been properly brought up. As the cupbearer approaches the chief, he raises the cup head high. The manner of presenting the cup depends on the rank of the chief. To any but a talking chief, he stoops and bringing down the cup with a sweep from the right as low to the ground as possible, he presents it with the palm of his hand towards the chief. To a talking chief he turns slightly to the left and brings down the cup with a backhand sweep from the left so that the cup is presented with the back of his hand still towards the chief. The distinction between forehand and backhand is important. When the chief takes the cup the bearer steps backwards two or three paces and stands still at attention whilst the chief drinks. He then page 155steps forward, receives the cup and returns to the bowl for the next helping. A well instructed cupbearer adds materially to the dignity of the ceremony.

Receiving the cup. Proper etiquette must be observed in receiving the cup. A chief, other than a talking chief, takes the cup by hooking his forefinger over the rim. A talking chief receives the cup in the open palm without hooking his finger over the rim. If his neighbor is a high chief, he holds out the hand on the side away from him. If there is a high chief on either side of him, he compromises by taking the cup in both hands.

Drinking. On receiving the cup, a few drops are poured out on the floor before drinking. This is termed sa'asa'a and is usually held to be a libation to the household gods. It is sometimes said to be a way of deflecting mischievous spirits while the guest drinks in peace. The people of Manua connect it with a historical incident between the ancestors Tangaloa-ui and Pava.

Tangaloa-ui while drinking kava with Pava near Saua on the island of Tau killed Pava's small son owing to the noise and disturbance he created during the ceremony. To the angry parent, Tangaloa said, "Liunga lua le taeao," interpreted as meaning, "There will be another bowl of kava later," or, "The second bowl of kava is the better." The two passed on to Namo, taking the corpse with them, to a house beside the stream which was flooded. There Pava went out, tied some talo leaves around his head and floated down past the house. Tangaloa, however, not deceived by the floating talo leaves called Pava into the house. By this time the kava was ready. Tangaloa again said, "Liunga lua le taeao." When the cup was passed to him, he asked Pava for a talo leaf from his headdress. Taking the leaf and tearing it in two, he poured some of the kava from his cup upon it. Turning to Pava he said "Just as water will not soak into a talo leaf, so death has not penetrated the body of your son." The boy quivered and sat up. Thus for Pava, the second brewing of kava was the better.

In memory of that event, say the Manuans, a little kava is always poured out on the floor ere drinking and the tip of the talo leaf is pinched off before cooking. The usage has been rationalized by the Christian community who as they pour out the kava repeat some formula, such as, "May God bless this gathering."

The mats are usually separated so that the drops may be poured on the gravel floor, or the guest may turn slightly and pour the libation out on the bare gravel near the wall posts. Some pour a few drops on the mat in front of them and others merely go through the motion of tilting up the cup without actually spilling any kava. The small quantity poured out is termed sa'asa'a. The guest then raises the cup to his lips with the salutation of "manuia." Some continue the invocation into a salutation to those present, especially the guests. The salutation takes some such form as "la manuia le afionga o Langi Filoa ma le faletua. A 'ia manuia lo latou fa'atasianga" (Good fortune attend the presence of Te Rangi Hiroa and his wife. Good fortune also attend our being united together)."

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Some Samoans do not cafe for kava. They either call out their thanks and refusal when their names are called, or accept the bowl and, after raising it with a salutation, return it untouched to the cupbearer. The bearer on returning pours it back into the bowl and gets a refill for the next call. Others retain the kava in the mouth, hand back the cup and after gargling the mouth reject the fluid between the wall posts to the platform outside. This was often done, and is no breach of manners either in sound or procedure. The cup generally contains a little sediment at the bottom. After drinking, the dregs are tossed out to the back (sasa'a). The cup is always handed back to the bearer and not tossed back as in Tonga. Anyone requiring a good drink may, on seeing that the cup is only partly full, send it back to be filled without breach of etiquette.

Seating. The position of guests and hosts within the guest house during the formal drinking of kava is the same as at a feast. The kava is always introductory to other activities. The position of the person preparing the kava and the assistants has been described. The remaining special position is that of the person who presides over the distributing of the kava. On ordinary occasions he usually sits on the right, next to the attendant with the water. When specially appointed, he may be on the left near the bowl.

Distribution (fa'asoasoa). On ordinary occasions, one of the lesser talking chiefs of the family group, sits down beside the bowl as a matter of course. Where guests or others are present, the talking chief on the front side (luma) of the house may call out to a particular person, "Alu fa'asoasoa le alofi" (Go and distribute the kava). Alofi is the honorific title of the prepared kava. On ceremonial occasions a special appointment is made from the higher talking chiefs. The appointment is really one of the perquisites of the talking chief's office. If appointed by the village high chief, the village chief usually rewards him with a piece of barkcloth. The appointment, however, is usually delegated to the visiting high chief. The village talking chief asks who is to distribute the alofi. The selection is made by the male visitors from the local talking chiefs. During the Bishop Museum malanga in Tutuila, Mr. Judd, the leader of the expedition, was always asked whom he would appoint, though he did not know the names of the local talking chiefs. He in turn deputed the selection to the official Samoan talking chief who acted in that capacity to the expedition. The chief so appointed was called the aenga o le alofi, or the taulangi.

The distributor, besides calling the names of those present in correct order, has a certain formula to call as the making of the kava nears completion. After taking up his position and watching the steps of the preparation, he calls in a loud recitative tone the following announcement or some variant of it.

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'O le angatonu o le taeao, The kava of the day,
'O le f esilafa'inga matangofie, The pleasant meeting together,
'O le susunga mai o le susunga o Laloifi. Of the coming of the presence of Laloifi.
Ua matou lingina iai le vai malu. We have poured cool water (into the bowl).
A usi, ua fa'asoasoa. When it is strained, it will be distributed.

As it is nearly strained at this point, he commences to clap his hands together (tapati) and all those present in the house follow suit.

The first cup is then called and so on in ceremonial order of precedence. The most important cups are the first and the last. The distributor watches the bowl to see how far it will go. If there is not enough kava to go round a large assembly, he leaves some of the lesser chiefs out. He takes care to call the last cup before the bowl is empty. He is then sure of getting a drink himself if he has not called his own name. If there is plenty of kava to go round, the remains after the last cup called may be drunk without announcement by the lesser chiefs seated near the bowl. The call with the last cup is an announcement that the bowl is empty. There are many variants of the following call.

Ua motu le alofi The kava is finished
Ua mativa le fau The strainer is dry
Pa'upa'u tafa'i mamao. The chiefs from afar have emptied the bowl
Fa'atasi e Falesau ona toe. The dregs will be drained by Falesau.

The last official cup is then taken to the chief named. The visiting chief then gives the distributor a present of a piece of bark cloth. Money may now take its place; half a dollar being the equivalent of a piece of bark cloth. The coin is tossed over with the words, "Here is your siapo (bark cloth)." The distributor touches his head with the coin or the cloth as a mark of respect. He then goes out on the house platform and calls the names of the visiting chiefs, finishing up with fa'afetai (thanks): "Laioifi e ! Falesau e! Falemavaenga e! Ie'ei! Fa'afetai!"

Order of serving. The order of serving the cup is definite. The senior visiting chief gets the first cup and the local chief the next. Then it alternates between the two parties according to the order of precedence on each side. Next to the first two chiefs are the senior talking chiefs of the visitors and then the senior talking chief of the village. On our expedition some of the local high chiefs to pay us a special compliment had our three cups served first before allowing their own names to be called. One talking chief at page 158Fangasa, for the sake of effect, threw in a tin can for his portion as he was not worthy to drink from the same cup. Sometimes, where government officials are welcomed, a dilemma occurs occasionally through a young Samoan clerk holding a matai title. Hence, as the cup alternates between the two parties, the Samoan clerk may appear higher up in the Samoan list than his master does in the Government official list. The latter then has the chagrin of seeing a junior clerk from his own office receiving a cup several turns before it comes to him. He seldom realizes that his employee enjoys a higher social position among his people than the master in his own society. The last cup as already indicated goes to a chief of high rank. This is often convenient for the distributor when puzzled as to precedence between two high chiefs; he gives one the first, and the other the last.

A lesser talking chief who would come well down the list may get a turn before it is due by calling the name of a high chief or visitor, saying, "O le ipu o Laloifi o lea 'ou alu ai" (The cup of Laloifi is that which I follow). He is served with the next cup without the distributor calling his name. If the distributor has a sense of humor, he sees that the cup is filled to the brim. If the recipient cannot empty it, he feels rather ashamed as humorous remarks are sure to be made about him. In Manua, the man who calls a chief's cup also gets his portion of food when it is served later.

Prompting. The distributor knows the order of precedence of the local chiefs but he may not be sure of that of the visitors. Many chiefs have kava cup titles which must be called officially. To avoid error, recourse to prompting (taulalo) is necessary. The visiting talking chief sees to it that the chiefs of his own party are fittingly announced by telling off one of the lesser chiefs to act as prompter to the distributor. He calls out, "Sau se isi e taulalo i le alofi" (Come some one to prompt the kava). On our malanga, the young chief, Samonga of Leone, always took his place near the bowl to taulalo i le alofi. He told the distributors our newly-conferred cup titles to enable them to make the correct calls.