Picturesque Uafato village moves to preserve traditional trees

The ava bowl carved by the Uafato village master carvers has a significant role in the Samoan traditional ava ceremony

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – THURSDAY 24 MAY 2018: For many years, the remote village of Uafato in the Fagaloa Bay relied on the environment for is daily sustenance. The picturesque village is home to the country’s best carvers who have produced significant items such as kava bowls, orators talking sticks, canoes and a host of handicrafts now making their way into tourists’ homes overseas. The village rainforest is home to Samoa’s main source of native hardwood trees such as ifilele that remains the main source of the Uafato carvers’ distinct handicrafts.

Over the years, the villagers find that the native trees they relied on are fast disappearing and now have to travel for miles to find them in neighbouring villages.

Village chief Luaitalo Taumate said her son finds it difficult locating the Ifilele in Uafato and he now has to travel further east so he can find the trees close to the boundary with Tiavaea village.

Replanting Project
The village is now turning to the best solution they can come up with. Setting up their own bylaws in an effort to control the cutting down of these trees, and investing in a replanting project. The village has now established a partnership with the Strengthening Multi Sectoral Management of Critical Landscapes (SMSMCL) in Samoa.

SMSMCL is implementing the Community Agroforestry & Ecological Restoration Nursery program with several villages including Uafato, and through training and workshops, the village hopes to conserve the few trees left.

During the celebration of the Soil Week this week, Uafato village and SMSMCL celebrated a milestone in their partnership, by launching a nursery house with various traditional hardwood trees for the replanting project.

Uafato village women and children celebrating the partnership to replant the hardwood trees under the SMSMCL project

Lua’italo said the programme is significant in drawing a line between conservation and commercialization and it has given her a chance to see for the first time, some of the trees she has only heard of but have never seen before.

Tanoa maker Loia Laufai said the village bylaws give the Alii ma Faipule the sole authority to grant or deny any request to cut down the Ifilele tree.

“We are only allowed to use fallen Ifiilele trees, but not to cut down any more without the endorsement of the Alii ma Faipule,” said Loia.

He said this is the effort by the village to control and preserve some of these traditional trees.

The Assistant Chief Executive Officer for Forestry, Moafanua Tolo Iosefa acknowledged the village’s support of the programme.

He said Government can only make plans, but without the support of the village, the plans could not be implemented. He also acknowledged the perseverance of all stakeholders and donor partners, especially SMSMCL spearheading the community programmes.

A lone ifilele tree grows alongside the road of the village