ASCC-SSI Presents Lecture on Samoan Dance

By James Kneubuhl, ASCC Press Officer

Published on April 10, 2017

Okenaisa Fauolo-Manila, director of the Samoan Studies Institute (SSI) at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) offered some new perspectives on a familiar subject when she gave a campus lecture on Siva Samoa last week. With its lectures in Samoan, of which Fauolo-Manila’s was the third in a series, and in alignment with the ASCC Mission which includes promoting awareness of Samoa and the Pacific, the SSI aims to provide information to topics of interest to students and the public, which may or may not be covered in an existing Samoan course.

Each fall semester, the SSI surveys students taking Samoa courses as well as the Student Association for Faasamoa, asking which topics they want to know more about. Based on the survey results, or at topic suggested by faculty or staff, the SSI prepares a campus lecture for the coming spring semester. For the last two SSI lectures, Teleiai Ausage spoke on Tatau (malofie, tattoo) in 2015, and Tamari Cheung gave a talk on Faleaitu (Theatrical Arts) in 2016, both of which set the stage for Fauolo-Manila’s lecture on Siva Samoa this semester. “Personally, I found my topic challenging because most of us already have set ideas on this subject,” she said.

The SSI Director began with the question “Why dance?” This led into a discussion of dance as an expression of emotions, a statement of identity, a reminder of events in the past, and even a good means of exercising to lose weight. Fauolo-Manila went on to quote from different documentations of Siva Samoa by Samoan and non-Samoan scholars, such as historian Augustin Kramer’s analysis of Samoan songs and dances as prototypes. She discussed Samoan dances that have been lost, and why, as well as highlighting the different types of dances that Samoans continue to perform. Video clips shown during the lecture followed the evolution of siva to its contemporary style, both locally and in entertainment and competitions held in off-island locations such as New Zealand. Fauolo-Manila referred to the “sakē,” performed with sticks, as a type of Samoan dance in danger of fading into obscurity, and expressed the view that it would only take more research and practice it keep it going. One rare performance of the by “sakē,” Manu’a, took place during Flag Day 2016.

“Those who teach Samoan dances often face challenges in knowing the origins of the dances and songs they use, as well as the names of some of our dance movements,” she noted. The SSI director demonstrated certain dance moves, including filiki, moto, matalatala, and matiu’u, and explained their significance. She talked about ailao afi, a feature attributed to the Falesefulu, what found a niche in diaspora wherever Samoans entertain, and went on to give different examples of faataupati, and how Samoa developed ailao from nifo ‘oti to fire, and the sāsā.

Describing the role of dance in the cultural practices taught by the SSI to its student group the Students Association for Fa’asamoa (SAFF), Fauolo-Manila noted that thanks to the mentorship of former SSI staff such as one-time Tihati dancer Sia Achica and previous Program Coordinator Apisaloma Toleafoa, who is now a Theological student, the SSI achieved a reputation for quality dance performances, as evidenced by their representing American Samoa during the 2012 Festival of the Pacific Arts. The SSI, currently under the mentorship of former Uso dancer and current Outreach Coordinator Elisaia Mailo, still receives invitations to perform for visiting cruise ships as well as special occasions such as Flag Day.