Preserving Samoa’s culture

By Mathias Huckert ,

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LEARNING ABOUT ELEI MAKING: The students also enjoyed the process of producing traditional Samoan patterns during their visit at the Museum of Samoa.

LEARNING ABOUT ELEI MAKING: The students also enjoyed the process of producing traditional Samoan patterns during their visit at the Museum of Samoa.

Standing in the middle of a circle made up of scraps of paper, Fealofani Brunn used both, her hands and feet to describe how navigation was done before the times of G.P.S. or even compasses.

The skipper of the Gaualofa, a va’atele, or traditional sailing double hulled canoe, spent the morning together with her crew at the Museum of Samoa to share her knowledge about the art of navigation and traditional sailing with visiting students of the Martin Hautus Institute of Learning.

During their two-hour long training at the museum, the thirty students learned a lot about what had determined the everyday-life of their ancestors centuries ago.

“The students learn about what we do with Gaualofa, from navigating to the actual process of sailing,” told Xavier Lui, crew member of the traditional sailing boat.

“We are trying to reteach what we’ve almost lost in our modern cultural life, that is the traditional skills that our ancestors had in the days. Thankfully, with the passed on knowledge and our canoe, we can now try to revive all of that.”

The revival of old traditions has a special meaning for the boat’s crew, as they were able to prove during their presentations at the museum: “We want these kids to be proud of who they are.

As Samoans, these stories of their ancestors hopefully help us by doing so. If you have a closer look at our language, you will understand that it is actually based on the way of traditional navigation. Everything is based around this ancient time of the navigators and the importance of the ocean for us.”

Because of these connections, the crew’s endeavour does not simply end with just passing on the knowledge, as the Gaualofa’s skipper Fealofani Brunn could promise the students of the Martin Hautus Institute of Learning: “Everytime we showcase ourselves, we follow it up with a special tour on the canoe or even an actual sail on the canoe. It is simply not enough to just talk about, you have to touch beyond and feel it.”

The opportunity to not just listen to how their ancestors lived but to actually take part in this very old way of living was given in many ways to the visiting students at the Museum of Samoa.

“For us as students it is always great to learn something new, but in this case, it has a special meaning to us because we can actually see how things work, rather than just hearing about it.

As Samoans, it is also important for us to actually know more about our own heritage,” Laiva Lilomaiava said when asked about her experience at the training.

Together with her classmates, she had visited the museum in the context of a tourism course led by her teacher Christabelle Schuster, who also pointed out that the knowledge about their ancestors could be something the students will be able to benefit from in many different ways: “Of course, this knowledge has an important value for the students in order to identify themselves with their own culture.

But also in terms of tourism, they need to have this knowledge so that they can be able to tell overseas visitors more about our country. If they want to become for instance tour guides, they will benefit from this visit, but of course, this is also an enrichment for their general knowledge as well.”

The visit, that was initiated by the Museum of Samoa, was not the first of its kind, as the institution’s principal officer, Lumepa Apelu, told Samoa Observer: “We did an exhibition with the crew of the Gaualofa before and they’re also volunteers of our Museum. They come in and help whenever we ask them to do so and one of their tasks includes the teaching of the students.”

But the knowledge about sailing and navigation was not the only tradition the students learnt about. Just in front of the building, Ului Lalomilo had together with her daughter set up a table on which she acquainted the visitors with the old tradition of elei making. During this process, the students used a template of a traditional Samoan pattern to apply colour to a piece of fabric.

As Lalomilo told, her part of the training was especially well received by the visiting students: “They are really enjoying it, because it is always good to do something with your own hands, and this is what they can learn here.”

With the offering of these traditional Samoan cultural practices, the Museum followed the important task to preserve the country’s very own culture, which hopefully can be done for the many years to come.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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