Samoan stone adze-making workshop begins

The ~Rock~Paper~Scissors stone adze-making workshop kicks off tomorrow in Apia, Samoa.

Samoa and American Samoa have a rich natural and cultural heritage reflected in a range of pre-European contact arts and crafts that are both practical and aesthetic. Rock~Paper~Scissors aims to revive cultural memory and know-how by researching and documenting particular cultural products, and learning what raw materials and traditional methodologies were used, in order to enhance capacity to create innovative, culturally-rooted products. Among the outputs will be informative and promotional materials published on ancient and modern expressions of Samoan material culture that will benefit current and future generations in the two Samoas. 

In this project, ‘Rock’ refers to stone tools and pottery, ‘Paper’ refers to innovative paper products made from plant and tree fibres, and ‘Scissors’ is a metaphor for equipment and methodologies used to work with these resources.  The first part of the ~Rock~Paper~Scissors project focusses on traditional stone-flaking in Samoa, particularly the manufacture of basalt adzes.  A two-week program of stone-flaking and 3D modelling of artefacts is planned, assisted by Professor Mark Moore of the University of New England, Director of the online Museum of Stone Tools.  Mark will be accompanied by UNE postgraduate and undergraduate students who will help with the stone-flaking and 3D model-making.

This investigation into stone tools has long fascinated heritage artist Galumalemana Steve Percival who designed the Rock~Paper~Scissors project and is himself a stone tool maker, albeit with modern machines. Galumalemana recently returned from the United Kingdom and New Zealand where he saw many fine examples of Samoan stone adzes, some of which were hafted to wooden handles. Museums in the UK, Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand hold a vast number of Samoan artifacts. How these handmade objects were made and used reflect a rich intangible cultural heritage that had but one goal: to enhance the quality of life enjoyed by the inhabitants of these far-flung islands of the Pacific. 

Before the arrival of Europeans, Samoan artisans invented and used a variety of tools that allowed their creative impulse to flourish. The to’i ma’a, or stone adze, was one such tool, used to fashion a range of functional and aesthetic woodcraft, ocean-voyaging canoes, and the iconic architecture of the islands. The Samoans are members of a highly sophisticated society that demonstrated a deep affinity with the natural world and developed a range of skills needed to sustainably benefit from nature’s provisions. 

While not many generations lie between current Samoans and their adze-wielding ancestors, the knowledge of the making and use of stone tools is at once mysterious and challenging to house builders and woodworkers in modern Samoa. Discarding adzes for sharp and durable steel implements has effectively sliced away the memory of a rich stone tool heritage that served Samoan artisans for millennia.  It is that kind of cultural memory that ~Rock~Paper~Scissors is hoping to revive. Rock is a reference to stone tools and clay, or more precisely the ceramics found in Samoa and other Pacific islands. Making paper from plant and tree fibres is already well established in Samoa and the project is looking to create new, innovative products from the rustic paper.

Many basalt adze quarries have been found throughout the archipelago, but it is Tataga Matau, located on the ridges behind Leone Village in Western Samoa, that is the largest documented basalt quarry site in the entire island group. It is at this site that unusually hard, dense and fine-grained basalt can be found. The basalt found at Tataga Matau is special; it is here that stone tools were made in large numbers and traded with island communities throughout the southwest Pacific. Testifying to the industrial scale of adze manufacturing are the many hundreds of foaga, grinding stones, located in the area. A visit to Tataga Matau is one of several activities planned to take place over the next two weeks.

International Museum Day 2024, with the theme “Museums for Education and Research,” will be celebrated at the Tiapapata Art Centre in Apia, Samoa, on Saturday 18 May 2024. The theme highlights the importance of cultural institutions and their role in providing a complete educational experience. This is particularly apt in light of the research being carried out to revive cultural knowledge of what was once perhaps the most important tool of the Samoans. 

A symposium/workshop will also be held at Tiapapata on World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development on 21 May 2024. With a stone anchor and well over 70 stone adzes and adze fragments in the Tiapapata collection, an exhibit will be set up at both events and members of the public who have stone tools in their private collections are welcome to add these to the exhibits.  The two events will include presentations and practical demonstrations on 3D modeling and will also introduce stone knapping. Open to the public, the events will be held at the Tiapapata Art Centre and begin at 3:00pm.  Activities will end with the screening of a film with an archaeological theme at the Tiapapata Art Gallery on Saturday 25 May. 

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2 Comments

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