SAMOA
GAMES AND SPORTS
 

It is in Polynesia, where today was a tomorrow yesterday, and one day is the same as the other. Evidently in the islands contentment is a pearl of great price, and whoever procures it at the expense of thousands of worthless desires makes a wise and happy purchase.

This Web site outlines only a few of the games and sports that have been enjoyed by the people of Samoa. Other human races could never be any happier and contented than the Samoans have been. "Work is all play in the islands," is often said. Those many friends of Samoa who have had the good fortune to visit Samoa and live with her people agree that this is true. Sports, games, and feasting are all singing and dancing. In the village all the adult population are either directly or indirectly involved.

           

Games and sports contribute greatly to the much-entertained life of the people of Samoa. In a land of plenty, a suitable climate and a true spirit of friendliness among its young and old, foreigners are lured to the islands to "live an die." It's the pleasure spot of the Pacific - a haven for the weary.

The most legendary sport of the chiefs is pigeon-catching (seuga lupe). The season for the sport is in June, when the berries which attract birds are ripe in the forest. The contesting villages start off with net-making and feasting, then they move on to a certain pigeon ground in a hill or valley. Contestants build huts under the large shady trees to avoid being detected by the approaching pigeons. sometimes the contesting chiefs would remain there for months.

A circular space is cleared and used by the contestants for flying a tame pigeon about in a circle, which is tied to a string about forty feet in length. The trained pigeon roosts on the end of a crook which the owner holds in one hand His other hand holds a bamboo, dried so it will be light, to which a net is attached at the end. When all of the contestants fly their pigeons at one time, the circle looks like a flock of pigeons attracted by food and water. The wild pigeon is attracted, tries to join the others and becomes entangled in someone's net. The one who gets the most pigeons during the day is the hero. His catch is counted with the rest of his team for points. The pigeons that look good enough to be trained are saved. The rest are cooked and distributed to all participants in the fest attended by both the winning and losing teams of the day. Usually more than two teams, formed of different villages, join in the contest.

Another way of catching pigeons and doves (manutagi) is to train a caged one to coo loudly to attract the wild ones. The wild pigeon or dove flies into the cage through a large opening at the top. The owner hides himself below the hanging cage in which his pigeon or dove meets the wild one. The wild bird is attracted wither to love or to fight the tame one. When the loving or fighting begins in the cage the hunter quickly emerges from his camouflaged hiding-place and closes the cage. Well-trained pigeons, when the wild one enters the cage, fly to the top of the cage and hover over the wild one to keep it from escaping until the trainer arrives. Several legends describe the historical pigeon grounds and the popular contests held in the past between the greatest of chiefs of Samoa. Pigeons in Samoa are much larger in size than the pigeons of Hawaii. At present the sport is made unpopular by the introduction of shotguns. Game laws prohibit shooting of pigeons out of season.

Fishing contests are also very popular. Teams fish with hook and line. Points are scored according to the kind of fish caught. A small and round shaped Ta'oto is usually given he highest score of ten. Other varieties are given only one point each. The winners are treated by the members of the losing team to a feast of several roast pigs and many other delicacies. catching turtles, sharks and tuna are also contested and among the most enjoyed, as large fleets of bonito canoes participate in deep sea.

Wooden spear throwing (tagati'a) is a popular game played between the villages by all the male adults. The women are allowed to join in dancing and cheering. Teams are usually unlimited and it is up to each team to get as many relatives as they can to help from other villages. A light javelin is made from a small, light, straight stick which is barked and dried in the sun for two or three days. Before it is used, it is polished smooth so when it touches the ground it flies several yards away, onward and upward toward the set direction. he judges for both sides collect the javelins as they keep the scores. Should one of the teams have thrown ten, or more or less, spears over the farthest spear of the opposing team, they have that many points to their credit. usually the team that tallies 100 points first is considered the winner. Sometimes the contest lasts a week. The village where the contest is held plays the role of the hosts and supplies the food for all the visiting contestants. The guests will have their turn to supply food when the game is played in their village. Cheering, singing and dancing is continuous during the games and in the evenings.

Another way of playing the spear game is with heavy, sharp-pointed hardwood spears which the players throw at a target made of a stump of a young coconut tree. The root of the buried stump is shown above the ground about six feet. The number of spears found on the stump for each team determines the points. 

Another ancient sport that is very popular among the chiefs is Tau-Lafoga (pitching of small polished coconut shells). The game is played on a narrow, smoothly woven mat about 18 inches wide and 50 feet in length. There are only two or no more than four in each team. On both ends of the mat the players are seated. Each player has about five shells of varied sizes which he tries to land nearest to the end of the mat. Like European bowling, they try to push the opponent's shells off the mat. All the shells left on the mat beyond the opponent's farthest shell are counted, one each for a point. The mat is spread flat on a cushioned surface to allow free sliding of the polished coconut shells.

By moonlight the most popular game is hide-and-seek (moe-moe-saili). It is played by both men and women. A spot is marked in the center of the village playground for a goal. The teams are usually large as they include all the children who are old enough to run. One team leaves the playground to hide its members in any inconspicuous place behind the homes in the village, and as close as possible to the goal. The captain of the hiding team yells or whistles to inform the searching team that they are ready. The ones hiding are alerted to take the first possible chance to make  dash for the goal. Touching the goal is a point. The searching team is supposed to be away from the goal at a set distance from where they can run and touch the head of the one dashing for the goal. All whose heads are touched before they reached the goal are out. This game is played long into the night.

Another interesting moonlight game is hopping on one foot around a human ring (atiga). The player holds a newly-woven coconut-leaf basket between his or her teeth. As the player hops around he tries to drop the basket backward over his head, so as to touch a member of the opposing tem and make a point. In the ring, seats are arranged so as to have members of the two contesting teams sit next to each other. Should the basket be dropped accidentally by the player in touching any of his own team, he is out and the basket belongs to the other side. All members of both teams forming the ring, are restricted from moving in order to dodge the basket. The number of points necessary to be declared the winner is agreed upon by captains of both teams before the game is started.   

Wrestling is played by boys. Points are made when the opponent is floored or when he staggers and touches the grounds with his hands.

Canoe racing and surf-riding are also very popular among the young men.

Modern games such as football, volley ball, basket ball, cricket, tennis and soft ball are played in the schools and some of the villages.

At moonlight outdoors and in the guest houses the people also amuse themselves by asking and answering riddles. Recorded here are only a few:

Something of great value protected behind a gate of pure ivory which opens and closes up and down. Answer: The tongue. The movable gate of ivory is the upper and lower jaw with teeth.

Somebody who warns the world at the exact time every night about the coming of day. answer: The rooster.

The woman who wears long and grey hair. She sits on the rock wall. Her hair floats in the sky. Answer: The stone oven, heated. he grey hair is the smoke that rises to the sky.

A thing that tries to reach the sea. On its way it leaves a trail. Answer: The river.

Your most honest friend that protects you from fire and snow. He is clever and moves quickly from danger. Answer: The tongue.

Twenty soldiers who wear white helmets. They serve you faithfully in your waking hours on self defence. Answer: The toes and fingers. The white helmets are the nails.

A lady who sits on balls of ivory. Answer: The hen. The balls of ivory are eggs.

Games of rhyming are also popular. One gives a list of names of fishes and the opponent is asked to rhyme them with names of birds, trees, animals or such as that. One says, "I now have a fish known as gatala." A selected member of the opposing team would reply, "Gatala rhymes with ti'otala." In the same manner they would continue until they could rhyme no more, then they would change probably to names of trees to rhyme with names of animals or plants. Very often both sides would try to blame each other and debate the rhyming of the fish ulua with lelefua. The guessing team insists it rhymed but their opponents argue that lelefua is a butterfly and not a bird. The guessing side would argue that all things that fly are birds, etc. A settlement is always asked from an of the older folks who are present who usually decide on having the side with the best singers and dancers the losers just so that they may be ordered to sing and dance by the victors.

They also amuse themselves with the "Silence Game" (Taputapu Gagana). All participants are instructed not to talk, move, whisper, cough or laugh. sometimes winking at each other is also forbidden. A chant is sung by all members of the two teams. The last word of the chant is understood to be the deadline and all are expected to be absolutely silent. Laughing is the most common offense. A wink from someone to a member of the opposing tem might force somebody to laugh. Finding the guilty one is the greatest fun, when both offenders blame each other as the instigator. The fans usually force the one they want to plead guilty and be punished. Punishment is oftentimes a comical dance or smearing of his face with charcoal.

Fuaga (juggling) is a woman's game. The player sings a song as she tosses three or more oranges over her head and keeps them in the air as long as possible. The length of the act is decided by the number of times the participants repeated the words of the song for the player. When she drops an orange she stops and the other team selects a player.

Tolotolo-uga (Crawling-Snail_ is a guessing game played by the villagers at moonlight. The players must know each other well. Behind a screen or cloth stretched tight by two players of the hiding team crawls one as the two members stretching the screen sing as they all march toward the other team who will give only one guess of the name of the person hiding behind the screen. A wrong guess makes one point for the hiding team, who continue on until the right name is given, when the curtain changes hands.

These are only a few of the games and sports played in Samoa. Other human races could never be any happier and contented than the Samoans have been. "Work is all play in the islands," is often said. Those many friends of Samoa who have had the good fortune to visit Samoa and live with her people agree that this is true. Sports, games, and feasting are all singing and dancing. In the village all the adult population are either directly or indirectly involved. It is in Polynesia, where today as a tomorrow yesterday, and one day is the same as the other. Evidently in the islands contentment is a pearl of great price, and whoever procures it at the expense of thousands of worthless desires makes a wise and happy purchase.

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 (E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 15th November 2008)
      
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