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Samoan Material Culture

Miscellaneous Stone Tools

Miscellaneous Stone Tools


"A chisel is a cutting implement which is hafted with its long axis continuous with the long axis of the haft. The motive power is supplied sometimes by pressure and sometimes by mallet blows." The above is the definition of a chisel accepted by the conference on terminology alluded to on p. 334. Long, narrow implements are termed tofi by the Sampans, but no accurate information could be obtained as to how they were hafted, or whether a mallet was used. As Samoan carpenters were seen hollowing out bowls with steel chisels and gouges hafted as adzes, it may be inferred that the larger stone implements with fairly parallel sides were also hafted as adzes. Pratt, in his English-Samoan vocabulary (23, p. 90) gives the name for a mallet as samala la'au but, as he also gives samala as the Samoan form of the English word "hammer," it would appear that the Samoans had no old word for mallet. Failing a true Samoan word for mallet, the inference is that the mallet was not used in Samoan woodcraft. The Samoan tofi were therefore probably hafted as adzes, and such as might have been hafted in the same axis as the haft were used with pressure and not with a mallet. Some of the longer ones were probably used with pressure without hafting.

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The smaller implements regarded as chisels in appearance may be grouped into quadrangular, and triangular, and they follow some of the types of adzes. Quadrangular chisels may resemble adzes of Type I in being narrower in front and narrowing towards the poll. A short implement is shown in figure 211. (See Pl. XXXVII, C, 2.)

Figure 212.—Long quadrangular chisel (L. 1483):

Figure 212.—Long quadrangular chisel (L. 1483):

a, front; narrower than back, anterior edges rounded off towards rough poll; b, back; well ground but showing edges between three planes of grinding; chin well defined, conforming to three planes of back; c, side; d, sections.

Figure 213.—Unfinished long triangular chisel (L. 1476) median ridge in front:

Figure 213.—Unfinished long triangular chisel (L. 1476) median ridge in front:

a, front; two sides chipped to form median ridge in front; lower end curved; b, back; shows grinding especially towards lower end to form slight bevel with curved edge; c, side, chipped showing depth; d, sections, showing triangular character of implement.

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A longer quadrangular chisel resembles adzes of Type III, but the back has been ground into three planes towards the bevel. (See figure 212 and Plate XXXVII, C, 3.)

Triangular chisels. Many roughly chipped triangular implements were picked up on house platforms. They had no ground edge and resembled large drill points. One, however, that was partly ground, showed that the median ridge was in front. (See fig. 213, and Pl. XXXVII, C, 4.)

A broken triangular chisel with more grinding indicates a better-worked specimen of the preceding type. With a narrow triangular surface in front, it resembles adzes of Type VII. (See fig. 214, and Pl. XXXVII, C, 5.)

Figure 214.—Broken triangular chisel, median ridge in front (C. 345):

Figure 214.—Broken triangular chisel, median ridge in front (C. 345):

a, front; two sides well ground with median ridge ground to a narrow surface which expands below; b, back; wide surface, chipped, sharply defined back edges, bevel broken off; c, side; ground narrowing towards lower end; d, sections; upper section shows roughly triangular with front median ridge slightly ground down, back irregular; lower section shows expansion of narrow front surface.

Another broken triangular chisel with a wider front surface at the lower end of a front median ridge, and a straight transverse chin, points to affinity with the adzes of Type VI. (See fig. 215, and Pl. XXXVII, C, 6.)

Figure 215.—Broken triangular chisel, median ridge in front (C. 330):

Figure 215.—Broken triangular chisel, median ridge in front (C. 330):

a, front showing median ridge expanding below in a fairly wide front surface; sides chipped but touched up with grinding; curved edge; b, back; surface wide and well ground; bevel with curved edge and straight transverse chin; c, side, showing chipping also distinct chin angle; d, sections; upper, showing triangular section; lower, showing front surface, convex sides and level ground back.

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A well-ground but broken chisel shows the reverse triangular form with the back median ridge and a triangular bevel, thus forming affinity with adzes of Type VIII. (See fig. 216.)

Figure 216.—Broken reversed triangular chisel, back median ridge (L. 1555):

Figure 216.—Broken reversed triangular chisel, back median ridge (L. 1555):

a, front, wide surface well ground, narrow towards edge; b, back, well ground sides meeting in median ridge, triangular shaped bevel with chin reduced to a point; c, side, deep, well ground, shows chin point; d, sections, upper showing typical ridge at back, with convex sides; lower shows narrow section through bevel.


"A gouge is a special form of chisel in which the edge is curved to such a degree that the bevel is hollow or grooved." (Terminology Conference.) No implements in the Bishop Museum collection comply with the above definition. The adzes of Type V have curved edges and may have discharged some of the functions of a gouge. One figured (fig. 192) had a concave bevel. The triangular adzes of Type VII have also a tendency to a curved edge. The triangular chisel in figure 215 has a curved edge. The long chipped implement (fig. 213) also has a curved edge and as it affords a good hand grip, it may have been used with a planing action.

Stone Coconut Graters

A number of pieces of stone picked up on house platforms were found to be flat on one surface and chipped from the other rounded or irregular surface to form a curved edge. The shape was unsuitable for adzes and yet the curve had been deliberately worked. The problem was solved by the Samoans diagnosing them as coconut graters (tuai ma'a). Suitable pieces of stone were chipped to form a serrated curved edge which formed a better grater than an even ground edge. The grater was lashed to a wooden stand ('au sa'alo) with the flat surface upwards. A fairly thick implement is shown in figure 217.

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Old stone adzes, retouched by chipping on the bevel side of the edge were also used as graters. A Tutuilan adz so treated is shown in figure 218.

Figure 217.—Stone coconut grater (C. 348):

Figure 217.—Stone coconut grater (C. 348):

a, upper surface, fairly flat; b, under surface; showing fine chipping to form the grating edge; c, cross section; showing fairly flat uppper surface and deep curved under surface.

In Tau, a grater formed from an adz of Type I was lashed with the single lozenge design to a straight handle to demonstrate the method of attaching the stone tuai to the arm of the wooden grater stand. (See Plate V, F.)

Figure 218.—Stone coconut grater formed from adz (C. 587):

Figure 218.—Stone coconut grater formed from adz (C. 587):

a, upper surface; well ground front of old adz of Type I, showing part of sides, narrowing towards poll; curved edge; b, under surface; unground back of adz, bevel ground without distinct chin, edge finely chipped; c, side, showing bevel at lower end.

Knives and Scrapers

Basaltic flakes, standing out in contradistinction to the gravel, are found on the house platforms. Some of them were probably brought from the page 369quarry to use as knives and scrapers. Many pieces had concave edges suitable for scraping rounded wood; such as, handles, staffs, and spears. No deliberate retouching of the edges could be made out. Probably any piece that served was used and discarded. For cutting flesh and soft material, bamboo was used, but something must have been used for cutting grooves in shell before the pieces necessary for trolling hooks could be snapped off. Longer flakes with straight or slightly convex edges are to be found among the platform stones.


Net sinkers were selected from suitably sized natural stones. They were firmly tied with a special cord and then tied to the bottom rope of the net. Even the small, rounded, waterworn stones seen on casting nets were held firmly by the tying technique. The stone sinkers of ordinary nets were not treated by grooving. Line sinkers do not seem to have been used in former times because the hooks in use were trolled and did not require sinkers.

Sinkers for shark bait and shark nets. Large waterworn stones, used with set nets with big meshes for catching shark outside the reef, had neat funnel shaped holes bored through from either side with a stone pointed drill to complete the perforation for a rope attachment. In a shark bait sinker (ma'afa'amalie) a chipped groove extended from either side of the perforation to meet over the end. (See Pl. XL, D, 1.) Mr. Judd (17, p. 641) was informed that it was used to anchor the bait which was tied to the rope in a position where it would be about the middle of the set net. Another stone, with a larger perforation and a groove cut around the end, was used to anchor nets set for sharks, and was hence termed a taula (anchor). (See Pl. XL, D, 2.)


Canoe anchors are termed taula. Though suitably shaped, natural stones were more commonly used, some such as the anchor of the famous Lauti war canoe that belonged to Faumuina of Aunuu, Tutuila, had a hole bored through for the better attachment of the rope. Smaller stones with drilled holes (Pl. XL, D, 3) were said to be tied together to form anchors for the small paopao canoes while fishing within the reef.

Squid Lure Sinkers

Stones shaped like ordinary wooden spinning tops were used in squid lures.

Throwing Discs and Other Artifacts

Discs (te'a) of coral stone, used in the game of tanga te'a, were usually selected from flat pieces which had been rounded by wave action, but some are said to have been trimmed to the right shape.

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The stone nail figured by Kramer (18, vol. 2, p. 204) as a fao is unique and no information could be obtained regarding such objects.


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.