Ioane brings va’a to life with work

The National University of Samoa’s Centre for Samoan Studies had a first-hand look at how the ancient va’a alo (canoe) is used for fishing, in an impromptu demonstration.

In a public presentation, N.U.S. artist in residence Ioane Ioane shared the va’a he built under the tutelage of a tufuga in Savai’i, Mulitalo Malu Fautua.

He explained how the building and carving of the ancient canoe, with no modern tools or artificial joins, taught him the essence of his own self.

Ioane has been with N.U.S. for two months, travelling between Manono and Savai’i to learn from two tufuga, the art of building va’aalo.

With the floor open to questions or comments, Samoan Studies lecturer Matauiau Naumati Vasa explained that the root of the proverb “Ua le o gatasi le futia ma le umele” comes from va’a, like the one Ioane built.

“It’s about working together,” said Matauiau.

The fishing rod has a hook at the bottom, called the futia, which must hook into the umele, or rope ring perfectly positioned to catch it.

“If the hook doesn’t fit into that ring, the fishing rod will not be strong enough to raise the fish,” he said.

In English, the proverb can be translated as “the hook and the ring do not go together,” or the two parts are not working in cooperation with each other.

But explaining the proverb was not quite enough with Matauiau getting into the va’a to demonstrate.

Casting the fishing line back and forth, he showed the room full of visual art and Samoan studies students how the va’a is designed as a whole of separate parts. 

Ioane hasn’t sailed his va’a yet. He said seeing Matauiau at the rod was wonderful.

“It was good to see him in there, so casually, I am grateful to him for that.”

“Part of the project was to start a conversation about the ancient crafts so they aren’t lost, so I am grateful to him and his knowledge for being a part of that.”

Togialelei Dr. Safua Akeli Amaama is the director of the Centre of Samoan studies, and she said Matauiau’s presence in the va’a added another layer to it.

“Seeing him inside gives us a sense of what the fishermen or women had to do in order to capture the fish.”

“Sometimes these objects are not meant to be touched but to actually see Matauiau inside the va’aalo, it gives us a sense of space and dimension,” said Togialelei.

Togialelei said she hopes the next artists who come through N.U.S. will also focus on Samoan arts and crafts.

She said the C.S.S. is drafting its own artist in residency program, to encourage local artists to produce work over two or three months.

“That will be open to filmmakers, crafts artists, poets, and we are looking forward to trying to encourage art because it’s such an important part of Samoan society.”

“As we heard today, the expressions associated with these, the rituals associated with them, they are important objects,” said Togialelei.

Ioane travels back to his home in Christchurch, New Zealand this weekend and will take his va’a with him, but he hopes to return shortly to continue learning the art of the seven types of va’a.

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