Making Siapo with Fa’aSamoa Arts

Making Siapo with Fa’aSamoa Arts

What is Siapo?

Siapo is an ancient Samoan art form, similar to painting, but instead the canvas is called tapa (made by pounding barkcloth stripped from the mulberry tree), the paintbrush is a paogo (pandanus seed), and the inks are made from nature. The lama (black ink) is made from soot, and the o’a (brown ink) is made from the bark of the o’a tree.

Siapo art is a very tedious and painstaking process from start to finish. It isn’t a widely practiced art form in American Samoa these days. That’s why local Samoan artist Reggie Meredith Fitiao (and her husband Su’a Uilisone Fitiao) share their knowledge to keep the tradition alive.

Enter ‚ÄĒ Fa’aSamoa Arts

This local non-profit, run by Reggie and Su’a, was established to rekindle a passion for Samoan traditional arts by sharing the power of knowledge, hosting siapo making workshops for youth, and hopefully soon, they will open their studio shop too. Their studio is based in Leone, where Reggie was raised and where siapo made a comeback in the the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to her mentor, the infamous Mary J. Pritchard, who was also from Leone. You can read more Mary Pritchard, and about Fa’aSamoa Arts on their beautiful new website created by Mary Anne Bordanaro.

I’m a member of the Rotaract Club of Pago Pago, and in our recent meetings, Reggie was invited as a guest speaker because she was a previous Rotaractor also. She shared her experience with Rotaract, and her journey as an artist. And invited our club to a workshop at the Fa’aSamoa Arts studio. I wish I’d brought my camera with me, but ah whale, here’s a smattering of iPhone photos ūüôā

Making Siapo

At the studio, we sat on long benches lined up in two rows of trestle tables. We were handed glass jars with the labels removed, and instructed to roll the jar over sheets of prepared tapa to smooth out our canvas.

Reggie welcomed us warmly and shared an overview of tapa and the varieties of tapa made throughout the Pacific (ie. kapa in Hawaii, ngatu in Tonga, etc). She and Mary held up examples of barkcloth with beautiful designs and passed it around the room so we could feel and observe the differences and unique qualities of each art form from other Pacific islands. I learned that Samoan tapa is two ply, overlapped together with a natural starch to strengthen the canvas and reduce stretch. We asked questions

Reggie proceeded to the floor where a large carved wooden log made of ifilele sat on top of a woven mat. She held out two wooden mallets (I forget their names). One with smooth ridges around the square head, and another that had a smooth rounded head. She explained that the one with the soft ridges was used to pound the bark into cloth. For Reggie, she said it takes her about 15 minutes of pounding just to make one sheet. She showed us first, pounding in a rhythm of three beats Рthump… thump thump… thump… thump thump…

We got a chance to pound the tapa too, and I was the first to to give it a go. I could definitely see how this could be a meditative practice, and also how it could be an arm workout! I went on for just a couple minutes, but I think after 5 minutes I would’ve gotten tired. We took turns pounding and the bark flattened to about 16 x 24 inches. We didn’t have enough time that evening to all pound tapa, so Reggie was kind enough to share tapa she had already prepared for us to take our art home.

Once our tapa was smooth from rolling the glass jars over the surface, we picked out paogo to use as brushes. The tips of the seeds were trimmed to reveal the hair like brush. Reggie explained several traditional motifs used in siapo art and what each meant and how they were used. She encouraged us to be creative within these motifs and ideas to incorporate them onto our siapo.

We each sketched our designs lightly with a pencil first. Reggie showed us how to hold the paogo properly: angled with three fingers only (thumb, index, and middle finger). And learned that the trick is to always paint away from ourselves, never toward us. We shared little cups filled with lama, which is much more viscous and a very rich black. Most of us painted over our sketch lines, others opted to use the black to fill in their drawings. And then we painted with the o’a, which is more watery and very subtle at first but would darken over time.

We spent the next couple hours painting. I was happily entranced in the process. The vibes were really good all around, and our Rotaract team asked questions and complimented each others’ work. At the end of the workshop, we took a group photo (with Reggie’s cat and dog too!) and our siapo art.

Ian and Nerelle sketching

For most, if not all of us, this was our first time making Siapo. So I am extremely grateful to have had the privilege to learn from such a renowned artist as Reggie. And many thanks to my Rotaract Club board for organizing this workshop!

What Does a Sustainable Party Look Like?

What Does a Sustainable Party Look Like?

Feast your eyes on this tropical zero waste party idea!

My best friend Gabby Faaiuaso hosted a sustainable baby shower party for her oldest sister Siumu (who works for the local Environmental Protection Agency), and I was so impressed with the ingenuity of it all! Also impressive is the fact that she planned it all within a week’s time and got everyone together to make it eco-friendly.

It was a beautiful setup, and the best part is – everything was sourced locally! Remember the elei cloth napkins I made in my previous blog post? I made it especially for this day. Gabby (also known as Alafaga on social media) herself, is an amazing creative, videographer, and photographer in American Samoa and always advocates for local talent. She banded some of us together to create special details that brought it all together.

Venue: Faletalimalo, Utulei Beach Park

Decorations & Styling: Alafaga

Pallet tables & center pieces: Alafaga

Tropical backdrops: Alafaga & Ammon Fepulea’i

Coconut bowls: Pua Tofaeono & Alafaga

Elei cloth napkins: Nerelle

Baskets & ma’ilo plates: TheMindofMo & Guests

Desserts: Koko Samoa Bliss & She Bakes Too

Papaya stem straws: Alafaga

Chairs: Skyview Rentals

Game prizes: ASCC Land Grant plant starters, Mailelani coconut soap bars, & coconut shell earrings from Samoa

Follow Alafaga on Facebook, Instagram, and check out her photos from the event on this gallery!

26th. Always Grateful.

26th. Always Grateful.

Before today ends, I just want to share how incredibly grateful I am for these 26 years of living. From the sweet treats by my coworkers, to scuba diving a new site and getting buzzed by a turtle, hammocking on the beach with friends, listening to live music, getting gifted with pearls, a donation to my fave nonprofit, and the adventure fund, and a super rad Earth Day Everyday shirt from Ian (and designed by his talented coworker Valentine), all the back rubs and TLC from my main squeeze, ahhh and eating way too much good food… This weekend has been absolutely exceptional!

Plus, we officially booked our Puerto Rico leg of our May trip and got confirmation from our great friends that they’ll be meeting us there!! I’m thrilled for a new year of growth, learnings, and adventures!

Photo credit: Ian M – My boo, my babe. The best boyfriend and support system in the whole dang world. I’m blessed to have such a cutie pizzle. ‚̧ԳŹ

Pacific Roots Open Mic #12

Pacific Roots Open Mic #12

It’s been a year and some months since the last Pacific Roots Open Mic (a.k.a. “PROM”). A lot of the “usuals” have left the island and if you were worried that there would be less performances, you’d be wrong. Fresh new talents got up and spilled their struggles, their criticisms, their voices out on a borrowed stage.

Between spoken word, original poetry, reenactments, singing, rapping, instrument playing, and excerpts read aloud – that Tuesday night was not short of encouragement from an audience of young adults all different walks of life.

Shout out once again to Tamiano Gurr, owner of Pacific Roots and fellow poet, for inspiring us all and providing a real life/offline social platform.

Sunday Fun Day: Tidepools and Whale Watching

Sunday Fun Day: Tidepools and Whale Watching

There isn’t much to do

on Sundays in American Samoa.

It’s usually a day reserved for church, big to’ona’i lunches, and rest across the island.

Some friends from our “American Samoa Adventure Crew” Facebook group got together for a morning at the Vatia Tidepools, at the bottom of the National Parks’ Lower Sauma trail. We were running a bit late–our friends had just gotten out of the water and the tide was coming in. Of course, Ian jumped in anyway… so I made a GIF of him below.

After Vatia Tidepools, I got right back in the water at home. No photos but I snorkeled for a couple of hours with two other girls. Ian was hanging out onshore and realized one of the girls was swimming further out than she should have been. He kept an eye on her for a while and when he lost sight of her, he grabbed the SUP and paddled out to check on her. I stood on the treehouse and tried to find her white fins. She was caught somewhere in the waves, but it was difficult to pinpoint her a quarter mile away from shore. Ian must’ve had an eye on her just then because he held his arms in the air signaling to her in the wash. He put his nose to the waves and charged in. Soon he was in the water and she was on the board. They paddled out of the foam and made their way back to shore. She was totally okay and was a complete champ about it! She didn’t panic like I probably would have, and described the situation as if she was in a washing machine–getting spit up by the waves and pulled back with the currents. I’m so glad Ian reacted so fast to the situation! Things might have turned out very differently if he wasn’t there.

WHALE WATCHING

We showered, stuffed our faces, and hung out for about an hour, then headed over to Dustin’s place at LealńĀ. It’s whale season in Tutuila and Dustin’s got front row seats to the migratory giants passing by. Alanna and I were on our way to the seawall with our cameras in hand when we heard Ian yelling “WHALE! In front of you!” I was looking out further in the horizon and finally realized it was literally right in front of us, about 100 feet away from shore. We oohed and aahed¬†over 3 whales that showed off their pectoral and fluke slapping.

Dustin and his guy gang were experimenting on some all natural wood coals. The kiddos were running around the yard making mud cakes. The lovely Ma’i grilled up some grub, and we¬†watched the sky’s mood change to a warm soft glow.¬†

Just another Sunday Fun Day in American Samoa.

Hello Little Starling

Hello Little Starling

Samoan Starling

Thursday evening was beautiful and calm.

Just another day at Coconut Point right?

SUPing at sunset

Sabrina and Max SUPing at sunset

Starling Head Hopping

Tuni swims after a tennis ball

Puppy swimmer

HELLO LITTLE STARLING

I had just gotten off of work and went to the beach to join the usual gang hanging out by the treehouse.

And tonight we had a visitor – a Samoan Starling (Aplonis atrifusca).

Samoan Starling
Samoan Starling
Samoan Starling
Samoan Starling

It‚Äôs still a young starling – gradually growing it’s adult feathers and learning to fly.

It made us all laugh nervously as it flew for only a few seconds…

 

Hopping from head to head

Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping

The Starling perched on my shoulder and nipped on Paolo’s ears.

This is the friendliest wild bird I’ve ever known

Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping
Starling Head Hopping

American Samoa ornithologist, Kim Kayano is rehabilitating this juvenile and hopes to have it return to the wild soon.

Starling Head Hopping

Palolo

Palolo

2

NOV 2016

Culture

Palolo harvest was good this year! Ian brought back a medium sized tupperware full and we sold it the very next day for $50.

Coastweeks entertainment: Utulei Taupou Manaia

Coastweeks entertainment: Utulei Taupou Manaia

This last weekend was the Coastweeks Family Fun Beach Day.

It’s a huge annual¬†event put on by the Department of Commerce Coastal Management Program and supported by various agencies and businesses. There are outrigger canoe races, kayak races, food booths, jumping castles, water slides, stand up paddling, game booths, prizes, and live entertainment – and they are all going on at the same time. As the name suggests, it’s a beach day plus a lot of fun.

Utulei Taupou at Coastweeks 2016

“The Siva Samoa is an essential part of the culture.”

Samoan Feet at Coastweeks 2016

I was busy running around coordinating two paddling teams, a game booth, and a photo booth, and was lucky to have caught a break right in time to watch the Utulei youth group hit the stage. Their performance included a¬†sńĀsńĀ, aufaipese, traditional siva, and the taualuga.

The Siva Samoa is an essential part of the culture. Song and dance to tell a story, retell old legends, and give praises to God. It’s one of the many beautiful parts of growing up in American Samoa. Though I don’t usually dance, my heart still swells a little with pride when I see the smiling faces and the bright and colorful puletasi.

It makes me wanna scream CHEEEEHOOOO!

Miss American Samoa 2016

Miss American Samoa 2016

The Miss American Samoa pageant has been an annual spectacle for as long as I can remember.

In its heyday, the Miss American Samoa pageant was something that everyone looked forward to seeing–who was in it, what was¬†she wearing, how would she¬†answer the interview, what was her¬†talent, etc… And while people do still look forward to the event, the mismanagement of recent¬†pageants–and maybe the rise of feminism–has devolved the¬†usual enthusiasm for the pageant into a hyped up fashion and entertainment show. This is of course just my opinion. I also do think that the platform that the crowned Miss takes up is an important one, and that her duties and responsibilities have only become more important with time. She becomes a representative of youth and women issues in American Samoa and is able to propel these issues in the local community and share it with the world.

Antonina Keka Lilomaiava

“She becomes a representative of youth and women issues in American Samoa”

This year, the Miss American Samoa Inc. wanted to bring¬†back the basics in an attempt to restore the old glory of the pageant. The theme of this year’s pageant was¬†“Samoa, Muamua Le Atua”,¬†meaning “Samoa, put God first”. It is the official motto of American Samoa and is prominently featured on the seal and coin of American Samoa. ¬†With that in mind, majority of the contestants focused on the historical and religious aspects of the Samoan culture¬†in their talents and traditional wear, and made the audience¬†laugh and hoot with their different interpretations of dance and history. Overall, the pageant was well executed–short, sweet and simple–in comparison to previous years.

Antonina Keka Lilomaiava
Age: 19
Village: Aua & Fagatogo
Sponsored by: SSAB Pago Inc.

Janet Peleiupu Fa’afo’i
Age: 25
Village: Aoloau
Sponsored by: SM Sewing Shop, CCCAS Aoloau Youth, 5 Star Inc, Family & Friends.

Fellen Kelemete
Age: 24
Village: Mesepa
Sponsored by: Pacific Independent Distributors Inc.

Luava’asi’itia Aprilynn Esera
Age: 19
Village: Vailoatai
Sponsored by: Sliding Rock Inc.

Taisamasama Toatelegese
Age: 21
Village: Nu’uuli, Aua, Malaeloa & Fitiuta
Sponsored by: Tess Sewing Shop.

Antonina Keka Lilomaiava
Janet Peleiupu Fa’afo’i
Fellen Kelemete
Luava’asi’itia Aprilynn Esera
Taisamasama Toatelegese

Breakdown of awards:

  • Miss Personality: Taisamasama Toatelegese
  • Miss MASI: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Miss Photogenic: Janet Fa’afo’i
  • Miss Bluesky Internet: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Best Sarong: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Best Talent: Fellen Kelemete
  • Best Traditional Wear: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Best Siva Samoa: Taisamasama Toatelegese
  • Best Interview: Antonina Lilomaiava
  • Best Pre-Pageant Interview: Fellen Kelemete

And the final standings:

  • 4th Runner Up: Janet Fa’afo’i
  • 3rd Runner Up: Taisamasama Toatelegese
  • 2nd Runner Up: Aprilynn Esera
  • 1st Runner Up: Fellen Kelemete
  • Crowned Miss American Samoa 2016-2017: Antonina Lilomaiava

24 Years Old and Boat Day on the North Shore

24 Years Old and Boat Day on the North Shore

Last week was something else…¬†Friday was especially dreamy.

Just for starters, my hunk of a boyfriend made me a yummy breakfast, I packed my adventure bag, and on our way to town, I saw a pod of dolphins!

This felt like déjà vu because exactly 1 year ago on my 23rd birthday, Ian and I were house-sitting for some friends in Faganeanea. Ian made me breakfast in bed and I opened gifts on the porch, and was sipping on coffee and looking out at the ocean when I saw a pod of dolphins swimming gleefully in front of me!

How crazy is it that exactly a year later, I would witness this all too familiar sight,¬†fins gliding in and out of the ocean’s surface, forcing me to recall a whole year’s worth of blessings I am so grateful for.

Fast forward to my 24th birthday. I took the dolphins as a sign of a good day ahead.

I had the day off from work and the awesome people at the National Parks of American Samoa invited me out for a boat ride around the island’s north shore. This is one of those perks – dating an NPS marine tech – that I never took advantage of until now! I almost cannot believe that this is their everyday job, diving in pristine waters and maybe tanning on the bow in between. It’s something of a dream. I jumped off the boat¬†and snorkeled for an hour while the dive team worked, and got to use my birthday present (all green DaFiN kick fins) that Ian surprised me with that morning!

My only qualm that day was my motion sickness.¬†Yup, I puked a couple of times, and it wasn’t pretty.

But nothing could detract from how amazing I felt my day was going otherwise. The dive team came back up and picked me and¬†Brenda¬†up from the bay we were snorkeling in. We took a photograph-worthy tour of the north shore and went around the eastern most tip of the island, in between Tutuila and Aunu’u. When we got to the Pago Harbor, I asked to drive the boat and they let me! It was in the no-wake zone so we were going 10mph tops, but I was still ecstatic. And then the NPS team brought out brownies and ice cream in a Hydro Flask and started singing happy birthday to me!

The rest of the day went by just as amazing – my best friend and boyfriend threw me a surprise party and there was painting involved and lots and lots of friends and pizza. What more could a girl ask for?!

Baby on Board

Baby on Board

8

MARCH 2016

BABY ON BOARD – A shoot with my dear friend Carolyn and her husband Jameson, to announce that they are expecting!

Ironically, this was¬†completely unexpected for them.¬†Carolyn is actually moving back to San Diego after a 2 year stint in American Samoa, and with only one month left to go before her big move, she’s got more baggage! A little one is on its way, and Carolyn and Jameson are very excited to welcome the biggest change in their lives yet.

 

We’ve been talking about ideas for photos to announce their baby, and everything seemed so cheesy. There’s just no way around it! I forfeited any hope that¬†the photos wouldn’t¬†turn out tacky and instead went along and made fun of it. Cheesy pregnancy idioms? Bring it on!

And it turned out perfect.

Jameson is quite frankly, the best surfer in American Samoa. And Carolyn is our resident “it” girl. It seemed only appropriate to glamorize these two defining traits, and make what we could of it. Carolyn brought¬†the tiniest flip flops she could find, Jameson brought his surfboard, and we played around on the beach at Fatumafuti and Alega.

Thanks so much to Gabby for helping me out with this shoot!

Love these two so much!