Samoa and American Samoa

Barkcloth in Samoa and American Samoa

Polynesia > Western Polynesia > Samoa and American Samoa

Map of Oceania highlighting the location of Samoa and American Samoa (© Pacific Peoples' Partnership; edited to add location overlay)
Map of Oceania highlighting the location of Samoa and American Samoa (© Pacific Peoples’ Partnership; edited to add location overlay)

Art Historical Description

The siapo barkcloth of the Samoan archipelago is a living tradition in the early 21st century, unbroken though heavily eroded by the global trade in woven textiles and the influence of Christian missionaries during the 19th century. Samoan tapa-making shares a set of basic manufacturing techniques with the practices of neighbouring nations such as Tonga and Fiji, and most particularly with Niue and Futuna: The pre-beating bast soak was short and fermentation of the bast was not practiced; comparatively larger sheets were produced by glueing the bast sheets together with a starch paste of Polynesian arrowroot (Tacca leontopetaloides); finishing the cloth with a beater mark and dyeing by immersion were unknown.

There are three main styles of siapo, which can be placed in chronological order: siapo mamanu, siapo tasina and siapo vala – each one developing from the previous form, so that all three were in production throughout much of the 20th century. The red siapo sema and intensely black siapo ema seem to have run along in parallel with this growing tradition of lighter siapo, as an important minor manufacturing tradition. Unusually, the style of 20th century siapo is less well-understood than that of the 19th century – and requires further work in Samoa by specialists. One important radical development occurred in and around the village of Leone, Tutuila in American Samoa during the early 20th century, in which the traditional siapo mamanu form was transformed (in part due to increased demand for tourist art commodities) by the return to a whiter composition, the use of imported American pigments such as blues, greens and oranges, and a greater focus on floral motifs.

Images

Outline map of Samoa (credit: The World Factbook 2020. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2020)
Outline map of Samoa

Outline map of American Samoa (credit: The World Factbook 2020. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2020)
Outline map of American Samoa

Making Barkcloth

Characteristic Materials

Characteristic Techniques

river-board cortex stripping; initial beating – wooden anvil and square beater; pre-fusing; flat-faced beater smoothing; composition pasting throughout; rubbed decoration; serrated edging; hand painting; tannin-rich glazing

Characteristic Fabric Types

siapo mamanu; siapo tasina; siapo vala; siapo lufa; siapo ema; siapo ua‘ulu; siapo sema

Version

Entry created on 28 August 2020