FINE MATS - IE-TONGA
The term "fine
mat" is not an accurate English translation for the word Ie-Toga, the most
valued possession of the royal families of Samoa. It fails to describe the
true value of the sacred ceremonial robe as the Samoans see it.
Ie-Toga is never used as a mat; it never was and it will never be. It
is often said among the Europeans that a person can buy anything with
money, and that is true in many cases. But the Samoans can buy several
acres of land and save a condemned man with one Ie-Toga. Besides those,
there are now among the royalties of Samoa very old Ie-o-le-Malo
(government-approved robes) that can never be bought with money.
The wealth of the chief is measured according to the number of
Ie-Togas he has and the history attached to each robe in his
collection. It is the most precious medium of exchange in Samoa according
to the Samoans. Valuables belonging to kings and high chiefs while they
were alive have been buried with them in their graves when they passed
away, even if they were made of gold or diamonds, according to an ancient
custom. The Ie-Toga has never been subjected to that treatment.
Burying of Ie-Toga with the dead has never been permitted.
The Ie-Toga is
woven by hand from cured leaves of the finest grade of the pandanus plant.
The best weavers among the women are engaged in the tedious job of weaving
one robe which takes them several years to complete. Originally the Ie-Toga (Tongan Cloth) was brought to Samoa by Fuka of Tonga. According to
history the first Ie-Toga was woven for many years in Tonga by
Fuka herself. Fuka was the younger sister of Tuitoga, the King of Tonga.
She brought the robe from Tonga to Samoa to be presented to her older
sister, Lautiovogia, who was then the Queen in Samoa to King Tuiatua.
Fuka's gift was given to her Queen-sister during her visit to Samoa. In
appreciation of the gift, King Tuiatua named the robe Ie-Toga in honour of
the Royal Family of Tonga. Since that historical occasion hundreds of
years ago, the name of the royal robe has never been changed.
of Samoa immediately got together, and in groups they worked to copy the
weaving of the precious gift. The honour of being the first and original
group to weave the first robe in Samoa for the kings is now claimed by
several different groups in the islands. There is also a difference in
opinion as to which of things' royal robes was first ceremoniously named.
Having no written history at the time, Fuka, the Princess of Tonga,
arrived at opinions on the matter which may be taken for what they are
that the first robe woven and named in Samoa was the Lau o le Teve ma
le Masoa (Leaves of the Teve and Arrowroot Plants). Upolu
claims that the first established group of weavers was in Fagaloa. The
kings, they said, first recognized their Pipii ma le Eleele
(Cling to Earth). Tutuila claims that the first one named in Samoa and
accepted by the kings was woven by a group of women in the A'uma village,
near Leone, and it was the same robe that was completed in Fagaitua by a
woman by the name of Tauoloasii. The robe when finished was worn by the
weaver when she jumped into a deep pool of water during a ceremony
celebrating the great event. When the weaver came out of the water, the
robe was said to be perfectly dry. Because of the miraculous event, the
robe was officially given the name of Matu mai Vai (dry when out
of the water). Savaii also insists on her claim that the first group of
weavers was organized in Amoa, Faasaleleaga. They wove the first robe
there, and the second one was credited to the weavers of Sala'ilua, in
their own island.
to whom the original Fala u Fuka (Mat of Fuka) from Tonga was
presented in Lufilufi, claimed that his robe Faavae o le Atu Mauga o
Atua (Base of the Atua Hills) was, without a question, the first one
to be dedicated to the royalties of Samoa. King Malietoa had his robe
named Lau Taamu Tafea (Drifting Leaf of the Taamu Plant). It is
said that when his son, Prince Laauli, came to see him when he was ill in
bed, he brought with him a robe, in accordance with the ancient custom. It
was for a tribute to his father, the King. Malietoa ordered that the robe
be known as his official robe and it should be named in remembrance of the
stormy day in which his son came to see him. Tuiaana (King of Aana) named
his robe Fala Seesee o Tamalelagi (The Royal Mat of Tamalelagi).
weddings and funerals it is necessary for everyone who takes part to know
the names of the kings' royal robes. Awarding of the ceremonial robes is
part of the set program. The chief councils all over Samoa protect the
rights of the kings to these royal robes as well as the titles or names of
the royal robes which belong to them exclusively. No false claims are
allowed to pass unchecked or uncorrected. During the rituals, the whole
dominion is alerted to warn the erring chief never to repeat the mistake.
Usually such a chief is dealt with severely, punished and dismissed by his
chief council. These original royal robes are still treasured by the royal
families. They are also known as government-approved robes and valued so
highly that money cannot buy them now.
Many new names
and titles that are not known in history are attached to royal roles by
some petty chiefs purposely, to make them appear more valuable. But all
members of the chief councils have always ruled to give credit where it is
due, and will not be bribed for approval.
trained that it is an act of courtesy to stop over in any village during
their travels, to attend and pay tribute in any inaugurations, wedding,
funeral or any other function held in the village. If he attends any of
these ceremonies, he is required to participate in it. In his formal
speech the genealogy that connects the honoured with his ancestors or
village is cited, as well as all the formal salutations and titles of the
village or district it is his duty to honour. If royal robes are involved,
he is expected to cite the true titles or names of the royal robes of the
king or high chief concerned. Orators are expected to do honour to the
ritual by their participation and their citing of the titles and
hereditary rights of the honoured hosts. In the past, several orators have
been caught in the act of working underhandedly to change the set social
system of Samoa for their personal gain. Such violators were immediately
corrected and suppressed. The chief councils are alerted to stop repeated
errors that might establish new and illegal claims that would be hard to
repudiate in the future. An orator might be able to fool a few chiefs
once, but it is impossible for him to be able to fool the chef council
often. Contradicting opinions on the hereditary rights of the chiefs have
caused several wars in the past. In some recorded cases, it was evidently
the survival of the fittest. In rituals and village functions the visiting
orators are usually rewarded with a large portion of the feast, and are
often presented with one or more royal robes according to how they
impressed the village in their formal ceremonial speeches.
It is hard to
convince strangers that the Ie-Toga plays the most important part
in the lives of the Samoans. No hoarder of money was ever fonder of his
gold than a Samoan of his Ie-Toga. No function or sacred ceremony
is ever complete without a gift or display and exchange of the sacred
royal robes. A life of a murderer was often saved when the culprit was
wrapped in an Ie-Toga and presented by his family chief or village council
to the offended family in an ifoga (submission). When the
submission was declared accepted by the offended chief, the culprit was
set at liberty once more, having been fully pardoned for life. The
submission ceremony is considered as an act of surrender, and a true sign
of repentance and a pleading for forgiveness. Although this act of asking
forgiveness by means of submission is not yet declared illegal and is
still being done, no chief council or family is allowed today to pardon
for life anyone in the case of a murder or any other such serious crime.
The established courts of justice act on such cases as prescribed by the
law. A full pardon can be granted only by the governors when recommended
by a parole board.