Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Preface

Academic journal article Archaeology in Oceania

Preface

Article excerpt

"E mana'o i le vao, ae, fefe i le aitu" [We want the forest, yet fear the Spirits] is a Samoan proverb used by Malama Meleisea (1980:21) to describe the contradiction between the development of the society (social progress) and traditional culture in Samoa. Since Samoa is a chiefdom and kinship based society the oral traditions are of great importance and intimately tied to titles/genealogies and land. Meleisea (1980:27) indicates that when the Europeans (see Kramer 1994) first came to Samoa they were very interested to find out the 'original' or 'most ancient' version of Samoan oral traditions. Interest has continued to focus more on the 'traditional' Samoan society than on the moden one, which has become heavily influenced by European lifestyle and values. Meleisea suggests (1980:27) that this has created a confusion between history and culture in Samoa that has to be sorted out. He is of the opinion that Samoans think of their 'culture' as something ancient instead of something you live today, and so the 'culture' has to be protected so the uniqueness is not 'lost'. However, culture is something that is lived and changing and cannot be lost in our ever-changing world. Every new meeting could be seen as a challenge where we have to negotiate and validate our identities (Meleisea 1980:28; Goffman 1967). This is in contradistinction to history which consists of events and traditions from the past that actually can be lost if not protected or documented (Meleisea 1980:28).

Archaeology deals with the investigation and classification of the pre-historical and historical material remains, with the aim of documenting and protecting and preserving historical cultural values. Archaeology is a young science in the Pacific area, developed mainly by non-Polynesians since the 1950's and onwards (Emory et al. 1959; Heyerdahl and Ferdon 1961; Gifford 1951; Gifford and Shutler 1956; Kirch 2000). Archaeologists concern themselves with the actual material expression of past actions. This expression and its relation to the natural and cultural landscape is described and investigated through mapping, photographs, drawings and various analyses usually based in the natural sciences. To preserve and discuss the results in reports and publications or restore and preserve the remains on the actual site is often the final goal. The prehistoric material culture in Samoa is represented by traces in the form of monuments, pottery, stone and bone tools and skeletal remains found in ancient settlements. Such remains have so far not attracted any major attention among Samoans due to limited knowledge about the prehistoric tangible heritage, but also because of the greater significance of the intangible heritage.

Prior to archaeological research, traditional history comprising genealogies, legends and mythology provided the evidence or explanations for the origin, migration and structure of the past and contemporary Samoan society. Archaeology is also used to explain and investigate origins, and social change. Archaeologists investigate and describe past material culture and then often draw conclusions about past living societies with the aid of analogies and comparative methods based in traditional history, linguistic models and ethno-historical data (Kirch and Green 2001).

Archaeological research has so far been rather limited in Samoa and confined mainly to areas comprising of freehold or government land (Green and Davidson 1969, 1974; Jennings and Holmer 1980; Jennings et al. 1976, 1982; Martinsson-Wallin et al. 2003, 2005. A mistrust of archaeology is common and, as far as I understand it, this fear is founded mainly in the possibility that archaeology might prove the oral traditions wrong, which eventually could lead to losing rights to land and titles. Considering the colonial past, when Samoan lands were alienated and there was constant negotiation and re-negotiation concerning titles and land among the Samoans, this fear is understandable. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.