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Samoan Material Culture

Food, Sport, and Social Influence

Food, Sport, and Social Influence

Food. The Samoan in his quest for flesh food as an ina'i complement to the carbohydrate basis of his diet obtained little assistance from hunting in a country devoid of native wild animals. Rats, which had an appreciable value in the diet of New Zealand and Mangaia, were evidently trapped to remove a page 542pest and had no economic value. Wild pigs were those that had escaped from captivity into the interior and were probably never numerous enough to provide more than an odd windfall for the occasional person who set a trap. The flying fox gave good results to the methods of hooking and netting. Owing to the greater wealth of wild bird life, fowling methods had an important economic value. The snares may be set aside as an amusement, except the manipulated snare for taking young seabirds which, however, was restricted to a favored locality. Fowl traps in most cases were used in the cultivations usually to catch the fowler's own property. The dove and the pigeon, plentiful throughout all the islands, were of sufficient economic value to institute organized effort in the creation of ground and tree platforms and special fowlers' shelters. The bow and arrow, abandoned in warfare, survived in fowling. Technical experts obeying the urge for a change of flesh diet adapted the twined fish trap and the net to the need of procuring food on land. It is interesting to note how the food procuring activities of fishing and fowling seem to have reacted on each other. Fowling provided the fishermen with the bow and arrow as a method of procuring fish. The fisherman on the other hand seems to have given the fowler the idea that the open tu'u'u trap with a live decoy might be employed for catching the wild dove. Both the tu'u'u fish and the dove are aggressive towards a live decoy of their own species. The fowler made a larger trap of the same material and by the same technique. He placed a decoy within and hiding close at hand, he placed his hand over the open mouth of the trap after the wild dove had entered. He thus followed in every detail the methods observed within the lagoon. The use of the fisherman's hand net to intercept the leaping mullet in the air was also adapted as a method of catching pigeons and both are included under the term seu.

Sport. Though fowling was primarily carried out through economic motives, certain psychological factors came into play. The skilled fowler was not only an economic asset to his family but by virtue of his success, he was a social asset as well. His skill created a reputation and led to emulation on the part of others. Thus competition took place to secure the reputation of being the best fowler in the village or district. The villages became interested in the success of their particular champions and pigeon netting progressed beyond a purely economic process to become a sport in which the glory of victory over others became the main incentive. The chiefs stepped in and pigeon netting became monopolized by those of high rank. Chiefs could command the organizing of labor to build the earth platforms faced with stone. They had the leisure and time to carefully train decoy birds. They could pay skilled craftsmen to make the best nets. By increasing the size of ground platform, as many as four men could compete together. They could thus compete for the one bird which they all saw approaching. This element page 543was absent from all other methods of fishing, trapping or netting and hence gave a greater incentive and reputation to pigeon netting.

Competitions. Competitions were held between two chiefs or two pairs. The two end fowling houses were occupied in a single competition, and in a foursome the lesser skilled partner occupied the side house on the right of his principal. The competition was for the first bird caught or a number agreed on, usually two. In a competition for the first bird, a competitor might throw (velo) his net at a bird out of reach in the hope of securing it before an opponent got a more favorable sweep at it.

Chiefs often travelled to another island to meet an opponent worthy of his net. Some competitions have been made the subject of song such as the historic meeting between Fao of Upolu and Ulumu of Savaii. The trial was, held on the netting platform of Ulumu.

Ulumu speaks:

Fao e—'Ua e maliu mai, Oh Fao, you have arrived,
Pe mua 'ai, pe mua fetalai, Will you eat first or will you talk,
Pe mua le faiva na e sau ai? Or will you commence with the sport for which you came?
Le fale mua lena e le seu ai, The chief fowling house awaits you,
A'u seu i le fale va'ai. I will net from the watch house.

Fao, assisted by a well-trained decoy, won the contest.

Fao speaks:

Ulumu e—Sami maia la'u lupe. Oh Ulumu, celebrate the victory of my decoy.
'Ua ou mua. Ou fia alu i o'u fonua. I have won. I wish to return to my land.
Tutuila ua tufi to'elau. Tutuila has been brushed clear by the trades.
Fao le maunga o Atua. Fao is a mountain of Atua.
Mua ia ina mua—mua o. Victory if it is victory—victory.

Ulumu, true to the best traditions of sport, replies:

Fao e—'ua fa'afetai. Oh Fao, I thank you.
'Ua seu na langatila, You have netted with the forward upward sweep,
'Ua fa'aifo i tualima, You have used the backward downward stroke,
'Ua malie na fai o le faiva. Your exposition of the sport has been good.

Social influence. The elevation of netting to a sport monopolized by chiefs is illustrated by two oft quoted sayings attributed to Laauli, a half-brother of Malietoa-fua-o-le-toelau. On returning from netting tern Laauli found that his brother Malietoa had departed to pay a visit to another village. He followed without bathing or dressing in accordance with his rank. At the next village, he asked some girls whether they had seen the travelling party. The girls, noticing his untidy appearance, somewhat disparagingly asked, page 544"Why are you so dirty (lafulafu)"? Laauli replied, "Lafulafu a tama seu ngongo" (The untidiness of a man who has been netting tern). The girls remarked that his hair was sparse and thin (valavala). Laauli again replied, "Valavala a tu manu" (Sparse and thin like the birds). As the sport of netting could be indulged in by high chiefs alone, Laauli indicated by his replies that his dirty and untidy appearance was due to his exercising a privilege pertaining to his exalted rank. The sayings are used to indicate that people should not be judged by outward appearance.

The association of high social status with pigeon netting has reacted on technique in providing the long neat net used and the lashed seat used in the fowling house. The netting seat appears to be the only made seat used by the Samoans and while a section of tree trunk was quite sufficient for ordinary purposes, the neat seat with legs lashed to projecting lugs with a decorative design probably required the incentive of high social status to call it into being.

The competitions in which high chiefs were the participators, led to the full resources of village social organization being called upon. Visitors of distinction had to be suitably entertained by feasting and dancing. Churchward (8, pp. 139-141) states that the pigeon netting season was a time of feasting and junketing and that the entire population took to the bush. Such feasting took place away from the netting platform at the malolonga camp. The chiefs carried on the sport while their people prepared the entertainment for them for the intervals between netting. Polynesians are never happier than when they are feasting and dancing. Pigeon netting by providing a cause for such gatherings must therefore rank high as a social institution and its purely economic status occupies a secondary place.

The social influence of the sport is reflected by the large number of sayings derived from it. Both sayings and phrases used in connection with pigeon netting and archery became incorporated in the classical language used by orators. No other phase of Samoan life has contributed so much to enriching the language used by scholars. It is interesting that fowling should have had a similar effect on two languages widely separated for what falconry was to the language of the Court in England in Norman times so was pigeon netting to the language of the high chiefs and orators of old Samoa.