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Samoan Material Culture



Samoan stonework is characterized by negatives. In stone structures, cut stone was not used. The stone posts of the Fale-o-le-Fe'e, often quoted as having been cut by human agency, are natural basaltic prisms. The outstanding religious stone structures of eastern Polynesia and Hawaii find no counterpart in Samoa. The Tahitian term of marae for such structures exists in the Samoan form of malae but the term is applied to an open space in a village where public meetings are held. The Samoan malae has the same meaning as the Maori marae but though both areas have retained the social significance of the term, the special stone structure associated with it in Tahiti is absent both in Samoa and New Zealand. Samoan religious houses were built on raised stone platforms but both house and platform were directly connected with the technique of dwelling houses and the stone platform underwent no specialization for religious purposes. With the absence of the specialized religious structure in stone is associated the absence of stone images either large or small.

Among the necessary implements, tanged adzes as a form of purposive technique are entirely absent. The most common type of adz are quadrangular with the widest surface at the back. The commonest types are marked by a minimum of grinding, but full grinding on all surfaces except the poll is present in many of the smaller adzes and the less common types. Triangular adzes are characterized by the widest surface forming the back while the reverse is exceedingly rare. In spite of the cruder appearance of the adzes, good work was accomplished with them as evidenced by the technique of the arches of the guest houses and the flanged plank canoes. The aesthetic sense of the Samoan craftsmen did not express itself in stone but sought some other medium. Similarly the pounding of food and other material was performed with natural objects and stone pounders and pestles did not enter into Samoan domestic economy.