Inspired Crafts of Samoa


Samoa is a country of great natural beauty with a rich and distinguished cultural heritage. Living in seeming isolation from the rest of the world in the vast Pacific Ocean, Sāmoans have developed over several millennia, an extensive body of traditional ecological knowledge giving rise to a wide range of artisanal skills enabling them to create all they need to live in comfort and safety.

Weaving Social Cohesion
Samoan women are adept at weaving and the finest of mats are known as 'ie sae, These mats are a form of cultural currency used in ritual exchanges to strengthen identity and kinship ties. The plant fibre used comes from a variety of pandanus that is cultivated primarily by the weavers themselves. 

The leaves of the lau'ie plant, the variety of pandanus used to make the finest mat of Samoa, have serrated edges and a serrated spine that must be removed first.

After removing the spines, the pandanus leaves are rolled up for boiling in water until soft.

Women work in groups when preparing the pandanus. The softened leaf is stripped lengthwise giving rise to the name "'ie sae" or stripped leaves. The top side of each leaf is stripped from the bottom.

The stripped pandanus leaves are soaked in the sea for four nights, an ingenious process that bleaches the fibre.

The fine mats made by the women of Apai on the island of Manono, are greatly admired for their white colour that turns coppery over time.

Funerals are among the many rituals where fines mats are exchanged.

As a form of cultural currency, fine mats are presented to builders during a ceremony to mark the completion of a traditional house.

Young girls in Samoa are encouraged to learn how to weave the fine mats who greatly enjoy the parade of mats known poetically as "fa'alelegapepe" or flight of butterflies.

Every year, hundreds of women from all over Samoa take part in the national parade of fine mats on the National Day for Women.

Samoan women express their joy through dance following the parade of fine mats.

O le 'Afa Samoa
Coconut sennit - a verstile fibre at the base of Samoan culture

The coconut tree is the penultimate symbol of the Pacific Islands

The niu'afa is Samoa's sennit coconut. With husks measuring up to 50cm in length, these elongated coconuts have been found to be the longest coconuts in the world.

Lesā Motusaga Fa'anū is a Master Builder of traditional Samoan houses. Among his many skills is the making of coconut sennit, the cordage used as lashing in traditional architecture.

Samoans recognise the value of their natural resources and the children pictured here with sennit coconut seedlings are taking part in Arbor Day activities (2012).

Samoans developed an ingenious process of submerging coconut husks in the sea for up to four weeks to soften the pith that holds the precious fibres needed to make sennit.

Coconut husks are beaten to remove the pith from the fibres that are used to make sennit.

Logoa'i Kamisi and Sulusi Mulia are from the village of Lotoso'a, Saleimoa, where sennit had not been made for many years. Despite this, the process could still be recalled.

The husk fibres used to braid coconut sennit are dried briefly in the sun after the pith has been removed.

Tens of thousands of metres of coconut sennit are used to lash Samoan houses together. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the roof with its many structural members held together with the cordage.

Samoan children first learn about crafts such as sennit making at an early age. This young boy hopes to one day be as skilled a sennit maker as his grandfather who is also a Master Builder.

O le Siapo Samoa
Samoan siapo is known also in the region as tapa and is used in rituals and ceremonies. Here a young Samoan woman presents a fresh coconut and a traditional siapo cloth to honour a recipient of these gifts.

The paper mulberry tree is known in Samoa as "u'a". It is harvested when the tree is approximately 50mm in diameter.

Makulata Fa'atoafa is an expert siapo maker from the village of Siutu in Savaii. Here she is cutting mulberry trees for the precious bast (inner bark) that is used to make the cloth.

The first stage of processing siapo is to remove the bark and bast from the slender tree.

It is the inner bark or bast that is used to make siapo.

Mareta Faumuina uses water and different scraping shells to begin the process of making the bark cloth, a well-established process that has been practiced by Samoans for countless generations.

Scraping and folding the bast greatly facilitates the eventual width of the cloth produced which can be up to 10 times the natural width of the bast.

The bast is carefully beaten and folded to create an ever widening cloth that can be up to a metre in width at the large end of the tree.

Once beaten, the mulberry fabric is stretched out in the sun to dry.

Natural dyes and pigments are used to decorate the bark cloth with patterns. The sap of the "o'a" tree is reddish-brown in colour and is a natural fixative also used as a base with other colours.

The sap of the o'a tree is the main colourant used to "paint" designs on to the bark cloth.

Seeds of the "loa" tree produce a bright red colour that is used to highlight designs and motifs on Samoan siapo

Wild turmeric produces a strong yellow-orange colour when squeezed and is an important colourant in the finished patterns.

Seeds of the candlenut tree are the source for a black dye created to highlight patterns in siapo.

Smoke from burning candlenut seeds creates soot which, when mixed with o'a, creates the black dye used to paint designs on the bark cloth.

The first stage of printing siapo uses a carved board (upeti) with design transferred using a rubbing technique with the colourants applied on the top of the rubbed fabric.

Patterns and motifs are highlighted with various natural dyes and colourants.

Highlighted areas are painstakingly painted with different natural dyes. The brush used is a actually a seed from the pandanus fruit.

Several women often paint the finishing touches on larger siapo.

Siapo made during the year is proudly presented to the public in the annual parade organised by the government of Samoa

Samoan women are happy to show their handiwork and look forward to the annual event that provides national recognition of their skills.

Credits: Story

Photographs: © Galumalemana Steven Percival,

Weaving Social Cohesion: Most of the mages in this section were taken as part of a project to record fine mat making and use in Samoa. Commissioned by the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, Government of Samoa.

O le ‘Afa Samoa – Samoan coconut Sennit: Images in this section were taken as part of a cultural preservation project funded under the U.S. Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation to record the making and use of coconut sennit in Samoa. Collaborating partner: Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture, Government of Samoa.

O le Siapo Samoa – Samoan barkcloth art: Most of the mages in this section were taken as part of a project to record the making and use of bark cloth art (siapo) in Samoa. Commissioned by the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, Government of Samoa.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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