Tuesday, April 17, 2018


In Samoa, there is a ritual exchange of goods and traditional arts. Women typically give a finely woven mat called an ‘ie toga.  They also give a type of bark cloth called siapo, which is decorated with pictures of flowers and other natural objects.

Men, on the other hand, will typically give items carved from wood and red feathers. Carving sculptures was pretty rare prior to the European’s arrival, but typically, their woodworking objects tend to be in line with similar arts from Fiji and Tonga.

Other traditional arts you’ll find made in Samoa include jewelry, hair accessories, and other ornaments. Many times, these things will be made from other naturally occurring materials found on the island, like coir (coconut fibers) and sea shells.

And let’s be honest – one of the types of art that really sticks out is tattooing. In the US, I feel like there is still a stigma against tattooed people, at least in some circles and even on a professional level. (The only reason why I don’t have one yet is because I can’t decide on what I want.) However, in Samoa as in other South Pacific countries, tattoos carry a different social standing. Both men and women are tattooed and each tattoo is related to their families, their communities, and their role within their community. According to dictionary.com, the word tattoo is ultimately derived from the Tahitian word tatau, which is also the same word in Samoan. 

The earliest form of literature in Samoa was oral storytelling. However, written literature didn’t truly emerge until the 1960s, right around the time of their independence. Most Samoan literature is written in English. There have been many writers who have emerged from Samoa.

Probably one of the more famous novelists is Albert Wendt. (His birthday [Oct 27] is the day before mine.) Wendt’s most famous novel, Leaves of the Banyan Tree, was published in 1979. He’s worked as a professor and visiting professor at several universities throughout the South Pacific islands and currently resides in New Zealand. There’s actually a documentary on him called The New Oceania.

Other writers from Samoa include Sia Figiel (poet, award-winning novelist), Emma Kruse Va’ai (poet, writer, educator), Caroline Sinavaiana-Gabbard (poet from American Samoa, but I’m including it here anyway), Savea Sano Malifa (poet, founder of the newspaper Samoa Observer), Eti Sa’aga (poet, journalist, writer), and Sapa’u Ruperake Petaia (poet, writer).

Up next: music and dance

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