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New perspectives to save cultural heritage
Altan, M. Orhan

CIPA 2003 XIX th International Symposium, 30 September-04 October, 2003, Antalya, Turkey
Fig.2: Mbure, Fiji
The wooden skeleton structure that build the base for buildings
on both islands show high skills in handy craft and a good
knowledge about materials. But these traditions are declining.
The hot and damp climate limits the durability of the buildings
to approximately 20 years. Steady and complex renovation
work extends the life span of the fragile architecture. But the
number of people who can afford costly and work intensive
procedure is inclining steadily. As there is no direct need, also
the knowledge about the building process, the static features and
the handy craft is sinking into oblivion.
It is a matter of generations that the unique architectural
heritage of Samoa and Fiji is lost forever.
For a comparative recording of the traditional architecture, from
purely technical point of view to its cultural value and the
influence and relation to the social structures an
interdisciplinary approach is needed.
This paper shows a possible solution for a discipline
overlapping research work.
A good co-operation with local institutions enabled the group to
visit different villages. By living with the people, staying in
their house and in long intensive discussions, a lot of
information could be gathered.
2.1 Anthropological research
The anthropologists, who have knowledge about the customs,
introduced the group to the people.
Both in Samoa and in Fiji for the admission to a village one has
to follow special welcome ceremonies. The central part of this
is the preparation and the drinking of “Cava”. Cava is a drink,
made of the pulverised root of a pepper shrub and water. In
former days the village virgins performed the making of the
cava. Today the chief consigns young untitled men with this
task. After the welcome ceremony people may walk free around
the village. As all villagers took part at the welcome ceremony
they knew the intention and invited the scientists into their
houses. In interviews a lot of traditional ceremonies around the
building of a house were explained.
Often young people functioned as translators as many of the
elder don’t speak English. In that way they also learned about
traditions that are not performed any more. Many young ones
were astonished about the value and importance historic
buildings still have in the lives of their grandparents.
Fig.3: Interview with a carpenter
From builders and construction workers the anthropologists
learned to know why the traditional style of housing and
building is declining. A very important reason is the fact that
young people who look for higher education have to go
overseas. Influenced by the life style of the countries they are
living in for quite a while their every day life is changing and
with it also their standards and values are different from the
ancestors. The importance of property and privacy is rising,
which makes the traditional open structure of the Samoan Fale
unpractical. Nowadays people like to close their rooms and lock
their belongings. Nevertheless the traditional way of living
together in extended families is still kept up high. Students
returning from USA, Australia or New Zealand come back
home and follow the rules of the traditional way of life, obey
the elders and take on even painful rituals like the traditional
The interest of the young generation in their cultural heritage
may be a chance also for a survival of the interesting vernacular
architecture in the Pacific Region.
2.2 Architectural Research
The building types of the Samoan and the Fijian are unique in
their art and style. Wooden skeleton structures are the base of
the architecture in both countries. Fetched palm leaves build the
walls of the Fijian “Mbure” whereas the Samoan “Fale” is
characterised by its openness.
At first the architects concentrated on the different types of
Fale. The simplest form is the Fale o’o.
Fig.4: Fale o’o
Its ground plan is small and composed of a rectangle with two
adjoining half circles. A wooden platform is fixed on poles
above the ground. On top a simple fetched roof protects against
sun and rain. Fale o’o are used for storage and cooking. More
detailed and complex structured are the “Fale afolau". the
“Long House”. These houses are used as residential and
guesthouses and for meetings of the family. A platform is build
at the finish of the construction work functions as a protection
against bugs and humidity. Its height represents the status of its
owner. Eye catching are the bindings, which fix the wooden