Dear Family & Friends: We are having so many new and exciting adventures to tell you about. We get up around 5:45am and go as fast as we can until bedtime, learning our new responsibilities and having a peek at this BEAUTIFUL country. We hope in this blog we can express how blessed we are to testify of Jesus Christ and serve Him in this amazing corner of the world! HAERE MAI* to our blog, we're glad you are visiting us!.....(*This means 'WELCOME' in the Maori language)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Samoa Fale

A house or a meeting place in Samoa is called a 'fale'.  This is a large village meeting fale constructed in the traditional way.  Fales have a roof and a floor, but no walls, and just one room. 

 This is a very small fale.  These older, traditional fales are scattered throughout the countryside and in the villages but we are told they are disappearing with time.  

 Traditional fales had steep rounded or dome shaped roofs.  Here are a few more examples:

 Now fales are made with tin or shingle roofs.

Many of the photos I took of fales must have been village meeting places or not in use anymore because, for the most part, they were void of furniture or other household items.  I avoided taking photos of family fales out of respect for privacy.  As we traveled through the small villages it was interesting to see these open family homes with all their possessions in plain sight.  Every once in a while you would see a TV sitting up on a make shift shelf.  Often there were no chairs, and usually no beds so I assume they roll out mats at night.  In one fale that was almost empty of furnishings, I saw a very old woman sitting on the floor sewing on a very old sewing machine that was also sitting right on the floor.  My first thought was, if that were me, I wouldn't be getting much sewing done because I'd be in pain from head to toe. 

 This is a modern school owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I loved this beautiful fale with the kids busy at their studies.

Here is a very large and new fale at the National University of Samoa.  We are helping to organize a Law & Religion Conference, (which is why we are in Samoa), and it will be held here.  We expect around 200 attendees, and speakers will be coming from several of the Pacific islands, the United States and I think Europe.

 The newer fales are often very colorfully painted and have more detail, like this railing.  Additionally, they usually have a more modern roof design as we were told will withstand cyclones better.

I asked someone if they worried about having their possessions stolen since obviously anyone could just walk in.  I was told no, because all the neighbors in their fales are so close that all can see what is going on around them.  I guess privacy is not an issue.  
You will note the two graves sitting prominently outside the front of this fale.  This was very common, in fact probably 95% of the family fales we saw had graves by the front entrance.  We were told that Samoan people have great respect for their ancestors and want to keep them close by.  Many we saw were elaborately decorated with artificial flowers.  (Side note:  While we were driving around Apia I noticed quite a large store selling artificial flowers as well as several other smaller stores specializing in artificial flowers.  In such a small city, and in a humble place where I thought people would have more important things to spend their money on, I thought this was strange.  After driving around and seeing scenes like this one, I now understand why artificial flowers are important.)  Here are a couple more examples of families honoring their ancestors:

When families lived in more modern houses, their memorials to their ancestors tended to be more elaborate.

I would venture a guess that around 50% of the family houses we saw were open fales, and 50% were enclosed houses.  We were only there a week and only saw a part of one island, so this may not be true of Samoa as a whole.  Many newer homes maintained large open verandas in a traditional fale style, but had closed in rooms for living quarters.

 Here is a typical setting for a fale nestled in lush vegetation on the outskirts of a village.  Isn't this a lovely scene.
(P.S.  Most of these photos were taken out of a moving car, so not much thought was taken with any technical photography stuff.)


  1. it is so hard to comprehend life like that.

  2. I love this post. I had a missionary companion from America Samoa. I thought it strange that she didn't know how to lock our door. It was a push the handle in and turn. I do not think she ever had a door to lock. They may not take things but they barrrow a lot.

  3. Wow, this is amazing to see what life is like for people in various parts of the world, thank you for sharing this Karen. I realize how much I have to be grateful for, or the feeling has definitely been enhanced. While I was on the APY Lands a strong sense of gratitude overtook me as well, seeing how others live really keeps my life in perspective. Wants and needs take on an entirely different meaning.

    All the best with the conference, it sounds exciting!

  4. It is interesting architecture there. The original roofs are so high. I guess it helps keep the building cooler. The ancestors at the door is also unusual. You are getting great experiences on this mission. Hope the conference organising went well.

  5. The round design of the Fale roof is also like that to defend against cyclones. There have been plenty of cyclones through this area in the past 3,000 years. The open walls are like that so that the wind flows through the house to cool the house down given the very high humidity year round. It was quite common to abandon a fale, leave the blinds up and let the winds flow straight through it in a cyclone. When the cyclone is over, the people return to that Fale because it is still standing. The samoans understood or learned over several centuries the aerodynamics of wind power. An enclosed building would provide huge resistance to massive winds and would eventually explode, whereas an open fale would offer no resistance and let the air flow right through it and remain standing.

    Privacy - For privacy (rare) or when someone is near death, the blinds are pulled down. A Samoan village is not a community of complete strangers. Every family is genealogically linked to each other. Everyone knows everyone else. A stranger is noticed immediately.

    Graves near the house - It is considered to be quite strange to bury your family members in a far away cemetary. In the colonial days, the Germans tried to introduce cemetaries far inland at the back of villages. This never really took off because the back of the village is right next to the bush, and the old beliefs (which still linger under the surface) considered that "evil spirits" may reside out in the bush. It is better to have your ancestors buried right next to the house so you can keep an eye on the grave. Also, so that you can maintain the grave and keep it in top condition. On a political level, burying your ancestors on a piece of land is physical evidence of your family's connection to that land. All land in villages is customary land. Therefore, nobody ever moves house.