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Eruption Styles of Samoan Volcanoes Represented in Tattooing, Language and Cultural Activities of the Indigenous People

Abstract

In the Samoan language, culture, activities and beliefs are based on hidden volcanic characteristics and other elements that hint at people’s and communities’ experiences with volcanism and their consequences. Hardly any of these significant features appear in earlier western scientific literature. Traditional and cultural components, however, are mirrored mainly in place names, tattooing traditions, dancing activities (siva or faafiafiaga), traditional speeches (lauga) and songs (pese). To identify volcanic features that correspond with specific volcano names, linked to volcanic events, and document the cultural experience of people with Samoa’s rich volcanic landscape, field work was conducted. The field surveys equally looked for field evidence to link collected cultural data that has remote relevance with volcanism and targeted communities to map out their understanding of volcanism in areas considered to represent the youngest volcanic phases in the islands (from the Late Pleistocene to present time). These volcanic features were linked to collected oral traditions and stories uncovered by interviewing people from various villages located near these young volcanoes. Elderly people, especially, were able to recall and recite many such oral traditions. The study concentrated on Samoa’s two main and most populated islands, Upolu and Savai’i Island. The aim of this study was to experience how the early arrivals to the islands defined and responded to the active volcanism and the volcanic landscape of Samoa. This study helps us understand how the early occupants transformed volcanic features into part of the main culture components, which still continue throughout the modern generation. In other words, these people use volcanic information as record, memory or evidence to let the later arrivals know that they were the first to arrive at this particular place. This confirms the fact that most of these occupants were witnessing volcanic activities in this part of Savai’i. Skills used by the early occupants to classify stronger and less strong impact activity (e.g. thickness of volcanic smoke) provide valuable information for the volcanic monitoring system on the island. The study also identified the movement of people not only within the main islands of Samoa but also the arrival of the Tonga group in several parts of Samoa.

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Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the Research Office of the University of the South Pacific for funding this study through Aleni Fepuleai’s PhD scholarship. Many thanks and appreciation also go to the School of Geography, Earth Science and Environment for their tremendous and unconditional support for this project. Journal reviewers Jon Procter and Patricia Erfurt-Cooper and Journal Editor Kevin Page are thankfully acknowledged for providing significant input to clarify this manuscript.

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Fepuleai, A., Weber, E., Németh, K. et al. Eruption Styles of Samoan Volcanoes Represented in Tattooing, Language and Cultural Activities of the Indigenous People. Geoheritage 9, 395–411 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12371-016-0204-1

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Keywords

  • Lava shield
  • Legends
  • Myths
  • Oral traditions
  • Pacific
  • Pahoehoe
  • Samoa
  • Scoria
  • Surtseyan
  • Tuff ring
  • Tuff cone
  • Volcanic island