The multiple myths of Falealupo's House of Rock
Down a winding path amidst muddy mangroves and volcanic rock of all shapes and sizes is one of Falealupo’s most famous sites, the fale o le ma’a¸ or the House of Rock.
It’s a lava tube, with gaping holes in its rugged ceiling and scattered rocks all throughout the inside but enough of a pathway that it looks like maybe it was a house, at some point.
As the only palagi (non-Samoan) on the Samoa Tourism Authority local media tour of Savaii, the rest of the journalists are excitedly telling me the feminist story behind the supernatural site when our tour guide, village spokesperson Fuiono Tenina, begins to tell the tale.
As he speaks, the other reporters go silent, and look at each other like they can’t believe what they are hearing.
“What you are hearing from me is a story from within the village, the true story of this legend,” Fuiono says.
Sina, a beautiful woman from Falealupo, made her home inside the cave, which had been forged by God. Eligible bachelors seeking her hand in marriage would pay her a visit, only to turn up dead and buried outside the cave.
“Because of that, the village coined the phrase ‘ua au le ina i lau a tamaitai’ because Sina is the only one surviving in that place and no bachelors could visit anymore,” he said.
But all across Savaii, the proverb behind the fable of the House of Rock is used by villages all over Samoa to honour their women who can achieve anything.
Literally translated the phrase means that the women’s roofing is completed. It stems from the story of Tautunu, a Falealupo chief who asked his people to build him a house, and then had both men and women complete the thatching.
They began working at the same time, and the women completed their half first while the men lagged behind. According to legend, Tautunu was furious with the men’s abysmal performance and cursed the house, transforming it into rock.
It has orators explaining that the proverb means that women will work hard until the job is done, and do it well.
Not so in Falealupo, Fuiono insists in response to questions of the reporters.
“How can a person build a house made of rock? You can’t. Those are all just legends told by people but they are all wrong.
“This rock was made by God. Nobody can transform something into rock, other than God.”
He said the thatching competition story was spread around Samoa by orators and chiefs from outside Falealupo, and that within the village the chiefs are content to let the “fake story” be told.
But even amongst village chiefs, there is disagreement. Village matai and tour guide Silialaei Tuaia said Fuiono’s telling was the first he had ever heard of this myth of Sina, a black-widow esque character waiting for prey in a cave.
“There are many, many kinds of stories,” he said, visibly uncomfortable at having to contradict another chief’s story.
“My belief is that the house of rock was made, one side by women and one side by men, and the side made by women was completed.
“In the Samoan lauga (speech) it's a very important story. If you see a group of women do something, they will really complete it while men may not.”
Silialaei said he was taught the story of the competition from his parents and other elders from around Falealupo, and that he had never heard Fuiono’s version until we all did, right there inside the cave.
Fuiono says using the competition story to interpret the proverb to say something about women’s abilities is wrong.
“Those stories were made up, saying that men fell asleep at night and women continued their work but that is not true. What I just told you is the true story of ‘ua au le ina i lau a tamaitai’ and the House of Rock.”
The true story behind the proverb is that Sina’s alleged murders scared men away from her cave, Fuiono said.
“This is the true legend of the House of Rock. That Sina was able to survive while no other man did. This is why men were too scared to visit.
“Orators widely use this phrase referring to the women as the gender that can do anything.
“But they need to understand the true story behind this phrase, to understand whether or not what they are saying is true. No Falealupo person speaks of this legend, it is only outsiders who speak of this legend and we correct them.”