Samoan traditional skills revived in schools

The young learning from the old

By Unumoe Esera

APIA: WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2012:  Private schools and church colleges around Upolu took time out of the classroom this week to learn fading but treasured traditional skills such as making and weaving sinnet from coconut fibre.

Students from Chanel College, Laumua o Punaoa Technical Institute, Maluafou College, Papauta Girls College, Pesega College and St Joseph’s College took part in the different classes that the practical workshop has been divided into.

The first class was taught by Neemia Saili from Uafato Fagaloa – a handicraft maker who sells his wares at the flea market. He earns a living from making tanoa (kava bowls), fue (whisk), to’oto’o (staff) and la’au tau (traditional war weapon) and selling them to tourists and the public. He has made these handicrafts to provide for his family since 1969 and makes about $200 tala a day. Ne’emia said that he has been part of these practical workshops for schools for more than 20 years. The Ministry of Education Sports and Culture organises about three or four sessions a year for various schools and ask him to teach the students his skills.

“I teach the students how to make and weave the sinnet.  Most of them haven’t perfected the art of weaving and making sinnet but they already have the general idea of how to do it. This is the first time though I have also had to teach them how to husk coconuts to remove the husk and get the fibre which is used to make sinnet,” said Neemia.

He said he also travels to Savaii and overseas regularly when he is requested by Government to share his skills with others.  “I have travelled around the Pacific during the Art Festivals to showcase my skills and also to Korea twice in 1989 and 2001,” he said.

As he grows old, he thinks it significant to pass on these skills to the younger generations.

“It is very useful because if a child grows up and is not strong academically then he or she knows what he or she can do to earn a living using these skills,” said Neemia. He added that not all students were fast learners and some found it quite difficult to grasp the concept.

Sinnet is made from the fibre of the coconut skin and is usually a chore for old men whose patience and long work, can result in lengths of sinnet that is enough to tie every piece of wood that holds together the structure of a faletele or a huge traditional Samoan fale.

“Sinnet weaving is useful and very important to learn if you are a true Samoan girl or lady because when you grow up this skill will be of great use,” said Fou Tuliau a Year 10 student attending Papauta College.

Velma Tiatia, a Year 11 student from Chanel College said that it was important to learn sinnet weaving as she now knows the different things that sinnet can be used for.

“It can be used for building traditional Samoan fale to hold together the posts or for decoration; it can also be used to make siapo (tapa cloth) and the fue (whisk).  With this new skill, I can use it to help other people who want to learn how to make sinnet too and to promote the use of sinnet to the public,” she said.

The Second class included weaving hats and mats. Carolina Vaai a Tech 1 Fine Art Student attending Laumua o Punaoa Institute was keen to learn a new skill.

“It is important to learn how to make handicrafts such as woven hats from pandanus leaves to help out the family and also the church and to get good thoughts to weave mats, hats and other handicrafts. This is my first time learning these new skills,” she said.

Fausaga Afaese, a Year 11 student at Papauta College who was learning mat weaving was in her comfort zone during mat weaving as it is a skill that was learned at home.

“For me learning how to weave a mat is a vital skill as not all of us will get our dream jobs.  As an example, I would like to become an immigration officer in the future but if that does not work out then I have my weaving skills to rely on to earn a living. It can be used to make mats for the Fa’amati which is part of the church activities every year and other church obligations which require weaving skills.

“Every Samoan family has to have mats which are used to spread around the house for when guests arrive.  I already knew how to weave a mat before I came to this workshop, my mother taught me when I was in Year 8 so I find this class quite easy,” she said.

The third class was conducted by crew members from the traditional voyaging canoe – Gaualofa which has become quite popular in Samoa and overseas as it is part of the Aiga Folau vessels sailing the oceans and using traditional methods of sailing and navigation and reviving a forgotten art.

Taleni Aiolupotea, the Watch Captain for Gaualofa says that for this first week they are teaching the students the methods of traditional sailing using skills such as navigating the seas using the stars or star compass and teaching them the Samoan names given to these stars.

The second week will involve the students going on board the Gaualofa and putting into practice the skills they have learned from the crew.

Mareko Mareko, a student from Laumua o Punaoa was so excited and inspired by what he had learned from Taleni and his fellow crew members.

“I have learned a lot from what Taleni and crew members have taught me that it is not an easy job to sail across the sea in a traditional vessel, it requires knowledge and use of the stars, clouds, sun and moon even sand and birds.  Because if I do not have the correct bearings using these then the vessel will head in the wrong direction and can cause havoc aboard.  I have learned that you must take caution while at sea in order to have a safe voyage. Everything is done through one’s heart and strength in order to have a smooth passage and reach a safe destination,” he said.

The workshop is held for two weeks and ends next week.  The workshop is held at the National Museum of Samoa at Malifa Compound and is coordinated and by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture.

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