To celebrate le vaiaso o le gagana Sämoa (Sämoan language week) 26-31 May 2013, the Pacific Cultures curators are highlighting stories related to cultural treasures from Sämoa. We are co-writing these blogs with Galumalemana Alfred Hunkin from Samoan Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. We will publish a blog each day, highlighting historical, and cultural dimensions of the object. In Gagana Sāmoa, Galumalemana will provide commentary from a linguistic and Samoan Studies perspective.
In this first blog we feature some basic facts about the natural environment of Samoa and a short story about Samoa’s origins.
Total land area: 2934 square kilometres Highest point: About 1850 metres above sea level Annual rainfall: 2540–7620 millimetres Population in the year 2010: 188,000 (updated). Many Samoans also live in New Zealand and elsewhere.
Samoa is made up of volcanic islands that have formed over the last two million years. Some of its volcanoes are still active. The last eruption was on Savai‘i in 1911. Samoa has fertile soils, plenty of fresh water, and good marine resources. Earlier inhabitants depended on food crops that their ancestors had introduced. These included taro, breadfruit, bananas, and yams. Environmental threats to Samoa include cyclones and volcanic eruptions. In the future, any rise in sea level will encroach on coastal areas.
How the Samoan world was created
The god Tagaloaalagi (oftened shortened to Tagaloa) lived in the Expanse. Nothing else existed. Then a rock grew, on which Tagaloa stood.
From this rock, he made Papa-ta‘oto (lying rock), Papa-sosolo (creeping rock), Papa-lau-ā‘au (reef rock), Papa-‘ano-‘ano (thick rock), Papa-‘ele (clay rock), Papa-tū (standing rock), as well as Papa-‘amu-‘amu (coral rock) and its children. Tagaloa also created the Earth, the Sea, and the Sky from the rock he stood on; then Immensity, Space, and Clouds.
Tagaloa spoke and created the first man. Then he created spirit, heart, will and thought, which joined together inside man.
‘O le gaosiga po’o le fa’afoaga (foafoaga) o le lalolagi lenā e i luga, mai le Solo o le Va, ‘o se solo po’o se fātuga tāua tele mai Manu’a. E ‘umi lenei solo, ‘ae ‘o sina vāega pu’upu’u lea e tepa ‘i ai: Galu lolo, ma galu fātio’o, Galu tau, ma galu fefatia’i:—’O le auau peau ma le sologā peau, Na ‘ona fa’afua ‘ae lē fati: …..“Tagaloa e, taumuli ai, Tagaloa fia mālōlō; E mapu i le lagi Tulī mai vasa; Ta lili’a i peau a lalō.”
The Solo o le Va is a Samoa epic poem which tells the story of creation. Solo is the word for poem and vā is the space between two things. John Fraser records this in the Journal of the Polynesian Society in Vol. 6, 1897. The word vā in fact is not only at the heart of Samoan cosmogony, as Solo o le Va clearly shows, but it is also at the centre of Samoan tōfā manino or philosophical viewpoint. Social and cultural relationships in fa’asamoa (Samoan culture) are deliberated and measured in terms of the proximity between two people or groups (such as ‘āiga, nu’u etc), so that we take care to look after our relationships with others and hence the saying; teu le vā.