Samoan fine mats nominated as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage


The proud weavers with one of the best Samoan fine mats displayed in public for the first time as part of the Mothers Day celebrations two weeks ago

By Lagi Keresoma

APIA, SAMOA – TUESDAY 22 MAY 2018: The Samoan fine mat or Ie Samoa has been nominated for recognition as an intangible cultural heritage artifact in the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) standards.

Samoa recently submitted the nomination of her fine mat for recognition. The Director of the UNESCO Office and Representative to the Pacific States, Ms. Nisha told Talamua today that Samoan’s fine mat does have UNESCO’s support.

“The Committee on Intangible Heritage will meet and will look at the nomination and if it meets the criteria the Committee has set down for recognition, it will be inscribed on the UNESCO list,” said Nisha.

The Committee of experts who were selected from various part of the world to look at all nominations, will meet in Paris in July this year, and the submissions that best meet the criteria get nominated for inscription.

Samoa is a signatory to UNESCO Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage which recognizes traditional knowledge and art forms associated with tradition knowledge as a living practice and knowledge that continues to grow and evolve.

Nisha said the nomination criteria are based on a number of related aspects such as the knowledge, universality and value of that knowledge.

“But the main objective is to safeguard the art form and visual knowledge for future generations, to ensure that it contributes to the global mutual understanding, cultural exchange processes, and that it has something that builds the universal principles of co-existence and diversity,” said Nisha.

After months of painstaking work, the women weavers display the new fine mats for the first time in public and accompanied by singing, dancing and drums beating in the ‘fa’alelelegapepe’ ceremony. PHOTO by Ministry of Women & Social Development

Cultural significance
In its highest traditional form, the Ie Samoa is the most significant in any traditional presentation. For a mother, when she gives birth to a girl, she starts weaving the fine mat that will be part of the girls’ dowry when she gets married and the painstaking weaving process, takes years. The fine mat also has great cultural and economic significance during presentations during funerals, weddings and title bestowments.

In its traditional Samoan form, the fine mat is used in the Ifoga – the act of seeking forgiveness where the offender is covered by the fine mat infront of the offended party in cases where serious offences have been committed such as murder. This practice is now recognized by modern law and is taken into account by the courts in Samoa and New Zealand during the sentencing of an offender.

Nisha, Head of the UNESCO Office for the Pacific states in Apia

As for fine mat weavers, Nisha believes that they are also artists because they learn a particular form on how to do something over the years and they design, improvise, and create knowledge and new techniques.

On the commercial side, she believes a process has to be undertaken (with care) so that the traditional knowledge holders and artists such as weavers retain the knowledge and the credit for the work.

Already, a value chain has been created where the weavers are able to make an income out of ther products in a sustainable manner.

“That is part of what we call creating industries that will require adapting traditional knowledge to the present day lifestyle, and that is also the beauty of intangible cultural heritage, that it continues to move with the times and the needs of the time,” said Nisha.

“And that is where I think a process needs to be undertaken, and I think the Prime Minister’s initiative to revive Samoa’s finest is a good one, as it can provide that basis of support to create a value chain around the fine mat and for its growth as it’s an income generating avenue,” said Nisha.