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Afio Mai — Welcome to Our New Samoan Chief’s House

Samoan Fale at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Samoan villagers pose in front of the new chief's house

           

There’s actually been a māota tōfā or chief’s house in the Samoan Village since the PCC opened in October 1963 — over 50 years ago. Indeed, we believe ours is the biggest and best Samoan chief’s house in the entire world:

Tourists and visiting Samoans alike are particularly impressed when they step through the open sides of the structure and see the amazing details of the domed roof and intricate lashings.

When speaking in formal Samoan māota is a word for “house” and tōfā in this case means “sleep” — i.e., a chief’s residence. 

“It’s a treasure, alright,” said Steve Lāulu, our PCC Samoan Islands Manager who also holds the hereditary chiefly title of Mātuauto in the Savaii, Samoa, village of Tapu’ele’ele.

“It was built in a chief’s house style, just much bigger. This was done purposely, because since the beginning of the Center we have used it as a dining venue and the site of thousands of special events over the years. Now days when it rains, for example, we bring our main cultural demonstrations under its roof.”

He explained this was more in line with the multipurpose nature of a traditional Samoan fale tele, or a “big house, whereas the māota tōfā would usually be restricted to the chief’s family, other chiefs, special guests and important meetings.

Respect for such a house is very important in our culture, and even children cannot run through it or play there. So, for quite a few years we have been wanting to add a proper chief’s house to the Samoan Village.”

“Some of you may remember that the Samoan village underwent some temporary but major changes to accommodate the renovation of our Hale Aloha luau venue and also our 50th anniversary celebration in 2013,” Lāulu continued. “Construction on the new chief’s house began soon after those projects were completed, and we held an umusaga or dedication celebration for it on September 20th.”

As always with Samoan special events, the umusaga included oratorical speeches, the presentation of gifts of food to visiting chiefs and officials, a blessing and, of course, food “to eat now, and food to eat later,” Lāulu said. “All this took a lot of preparation, but it’s all part of the protocol that had to be done.”

He pointed out unique features of the new chief’s house which include:3

• “The design and finish of the building is much nicer and more detailed than the other village houses.”

         

Steve Laulu, Samoan Chief

Steve Laulu, Samoan Village Manager

• “The chief’s house sits on a four-foot-high rock foundation called a paepae, making it the most elevated hut in the village. This helps give the chief’s house the most status, and also provides a place where the chief can overlook the malae or common area as well as the entire village.”

• “Despite its higher status, a chief’s family also sometimes uses the sun-baked paepae to help dry husked coconut meat (copra), laufala (pandanus leaves for weaving) and Samoan koko (chocolate) beans.”

• “There are six large poles inside, called poutū, which in addition to helping hold up the building are reserved by protocol as seating places for other chiefs and special visitors.”

“With the completion of the new chief’s house, our Samoan Village is now totally renovated and ready for the next 50 years,” Lāulu said. “Please come see it the next time you’re at the Polynesian Cultural Center.”


Story and pictures by Mike Foley