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Fale

The interior of a Samoan home is conceived and constructed according to an age-old traditional design, under the supervision of an experienced tufuga, or carpenter.

The timbers are generally pou muli, a light, firm wood. The thatching (consisting of woven sugarcane sections tied together with sennit, a rope made from braiding together the fibers taken from coconut husks) is placed in overlapping rows and effectively prevents rain from dripping in.

Not only does the traditional Samoan fale have the greatest beauty of any traditional South Pacific home, but it is also ideal for the climate. A westernized "fale" with a roof of corrugated iron radiates heat down into the structure and can be most uncomfortable.

The walls of western-style wooden houses prevent breezes from cooling the interior. For sheer comfort in the hot Pacific climate, nothing surpasses the traditional Samoan fale.




Samoan Houses and village life:
Of course, in modern Samoa many homes are now constructed using western materials and designs; but still, each village, indeed usually each extended family in Samoa, traditionally has a fale talimalo (guest house) and/or a fale fono (meeting house) where the chiefs convene. Sometimes they are one and the same. The exact size and lavishness is determined by the power and position of the families and village.

Samoan custom traditionally requires families and villages to offer passing visitors hospitality, extending to overnight accommodations. Such visitors may enter the guest house at any time for a short rest. The immediate family will respond with time-honored traditions and quickly prepare food and water for the visitors.

After the guests are fed and rested, the chief will politely inquire about the purpose of the unexpected visit and the intended length of stay. Should the guests choose to extend their visit for a day or two, they are treated with kindness and consideration and provided bedding. The chief offers any further help if needed.

When pre-arranged guests arrive, the immediate or extended family, or or even the whole village will make sure the proper protocol is carefully and accurately conducted. They will prepare leis (which the Samoans call ula), food and special decorations. Included will be a welcome ceremony, the elaborateness of it depending on rank and importance, especially of the chiefly guests.

Guest houses are constructed in a typical Samoan architectural style with a domed roof, and evenly-spaced posts supporting beams in the Center. Traditionally, no nails or screws were used anywhere in such a building. Instead, coconut fibers are braided into 'afa or sennit rope to lash the beams and joints together.

The floor of a guest house is typically covered with flat, smooth round-shaped river stones which have been found ideal for balancing the temperature of the building. On hot, humid days, the stones cool the building; on cooler days they retain the sun's heat to keep the building warm and comfortable. For comfort, mats are placed over the rocks, starting first with thicker coconut leaf pola, topped with finer-woven laufala made from dried pandanus leaves.

The many posts which encircle the interior of this building have much greater significance than holding up the roof. Whenever any meetings are held in the building, certain participants always sit with their backs to a post, the exact one being rigidly determined by the persons' rank, family, and home village. Other minor participants sit on mats spread around the outside rim.

The post 90 degrees to the left side of the entrance is for the highest-ranking person in the visiting party, usually the chief. The post opposite that person is for the highest-ranking person of the home village, again usually the chief. The posts immediately next to the entrance way are for the chiefs' representatives or spokesmen, known as their talking chiefs. The first two posts on the left side are for the other local talking chiefs.

An equally significant post is the fourth post on the left side, or the stranger's post. A stranger coming unannounced to a meeting can summarily walk up to that particular post and rightfully demand that it be surrendered to him. The three large posts in the middle are also important, for from there any food to be served during the meeting is dispensed

This building is also referred to as the fale fono, or chiefs 'meeting house. In the Samoan tradition of diplomacy, the fale fono is always round.

Discussions include monitoring the performance of individual families who are expected to abide by the rules and laws approved and passed by the council of chiefs. In addition, every family is required to participate as a village unit and cooperate in such things as securing public safety; beautifying yards and homes, keeping prayer curfew each morning and evening and observing the Sabbath; planting taro patches to encourage self-reliance, growing food crops including breadfruit, bananas, yam, and sugarcane; and raising pigs and chickens.

The rock foundations of guest houses are usually elevated, sometimes as high as 5-8 feet: In general, the higher the foundation, the more important the chiefly title and rank of the family and/or village. The height of foundations symbolize the dignity and respect accorded a high chief.

It will usually take a master builder or tufuga and his crew a month to complete such buildings. The tufuga supervises the construction including the correct measurements of all poles, beams, choice of thatching leaves, amount of sennit rope and performance of the workers.

The roof is traditionally thatched with sugarcane leaves and when properly prepared and attached the first time, will last 10-15 years. The cone-shaped roof allows rain to easily fall to the ground without the moisture permeating the leaves and causing leaks inside. Of course, during sunny days the high dome allows the heat to rise and seep through the thatching, cooling the house.

Of course, the open walls of the house allow breezes to flow freely. During rainy or windy weather, or when privacy is required, coconut leaf blinds can be lowered.

Even though such buildings are reserved for important purposes, they remain open and empty most of the time. Samoans accept this fact and acknowledge that their guest and meeting houses stand ready as places of refuge for anyone in need of help. In the highest sense, these buildings represent the power, prestige, generosity and hospitality of the families who build them and their affiliated villages.

Traditionally, the maota tofa or high chief's house is the largest and most elevated house in a village, signifying the chief's prestigious position. As with other Samoan buildings, the high-domed roof helps cool the house.

A high chief's house was usually simply furnished. In ancient Samoa only a chief of the highest rank would sleep on a bed in one end of this building. The bed consisted of mats piled up to a desired height of comfort. Because finely-woven mats are exchanged as items of wealth in Samoa, the more mats a chief possessed and displayed, the richer he was. Such mats are still important as a method of paying tribute at weddings, funerals, and other public events.

The chief's pillow was traditionally made of bamboo or other wood. Samoan legend has it that sleeping on hard surfaces gave Samoans their erect, strong and straight stature.

The tunoa or Samoan kitchen was a man's domain. Preparing and cooking of food in the Samoan way is considered physically demanding, including the daily preparation of coconut meat and milk, which is essential in many Samoan dishes.

A fa'atoaga or Samoan garden is usually planted close to the tunoa, providing the family with staple foods such as sugar cane, bananas, taro, tapioca, sweet potato, and breadfruit. Cocoa is also grown in Samoa, prepared locally and drunk full-strength. Pork, chicken, fish and shellfish of all kinds are the most common meats.

For faster preparation, Samoans often boil green bananas, taro, breadfruit and other produce. Otherwise, they will bake their food in an umu or covered steam oven. [Note, Hawaiians traditionally cook their food in an imu, which uses the same principle as a Samoan umu, but the imu is done in a hole in the ground while an umu rests on top of the ground.

Once all the food is prepared, it must be cooked. A Samoan umu typically has four logs arranged in a square. Kindling and firewood go inside the square "box," with the rocks piled on top. When the fire has heated the rocks until they're white with ash, any remaining charcoal debris is pushed aside and the food is carefully placed on the rocks. Fire resistant leaves are used to sheath the food to protect them. The whole oven is then covered over with banana leaves and other insulating materials. The food takes several hours to cook.

Samoans traditionally eat two hot meals a day: In the morning they boil food over a fire and in the afternoon the men prepare an umu.