Le vaiaso o le gagana Sāmoa (Sāmoan language week): Inspired inscriptions – mama (rings)

To celebrate le vaiaso o le gagana Samoa (Sāmoan language week) 26-31 May 2013, the Pacific Cultures curators are highlighting stories related to cultural treasures from Sämoa.

European style rings, bracelets and brooches are popular forms of personal adornment made in Sāmoa from at least the 1920’s to the present day. They were typically constructed from turtle shell, coconut shell and coloured glass. Many of them feature a silver inset of words and/or motifs. They were inset with the names of places, individual people or families, or just decorative patterns or images. Like other forms of adornment they could be gifted as keepsakes or souvenirs and could reference relationships and memories of friends and loved ones.

Examples of jewellery collected in Sāmoa in the 1960’s show the local appropriation of ideas and motifs from other cultures. Made with the same inset elements they feature motifs such as swordfish, turtles and Fijian bure (houses) alongside the words Apia and Sāmoa. As well as borrowing cultural motifs or symbols, new and readily available materials were also utilised. In 1964, brooches and pins were commonly made from toothbrush handles and the rims of sunglasses. These techniques of manufacture and style of item are still commonly found in contemporary Apia markets. The ring is part of a small collection of jewellery, ornaments and textiles that belonged to Percy Williams, founding headmaster (1924–27) of Avele Agricultural School and teacher (1928–31) at Malifa School, Sāmoa. These items were donated to Te Papa by Barbara Williams in 1986.



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