November 05, 2008

Pacific Voices Valued Objects: The Samoan Tanoa

Posted by: Nicole Robert

Two Northwest residents who are part of the American Samoa community participated in both the development of the Pacific Voices exhibit and the creation of the book featuring personally significant cultural objects from communities of the Pacific. Both Veronica Leasiolagi Barber and Sapina Pele selected the Samoan Tānoa as an archetypal object that represents the richness of the Samoan culture.

Pictured here is one example of a tānoa, stored in the Burke’s Ethnology Collection.

“Since the tānoa is round and its legs represent the ancestors or noble families of Samoa, it can be seen as a visible symbol of community for Samoans, both those living in the islands and those of us who live in the United States.”
—Veronica Leasiolagi Barber

The tānoa (TAH-noh-ah) or ‘ava (AH-vah) bowl, is a round wooden bowl that is at the center of the Samoan ‘ava [kava] ceremony. This ceremony is at the heart of Samoan community life, which includes the welcoming of others into your home and community.

“The tānoa is an object that every Samoan immediately knows is Samoan. For me, it’s a symbol of who I am. It’s about where I come from and who we are as a people. A few years ago I was in Samoa for the South Pacific Mini Games. At the closing ceremonies, the Samoan museum gave gifts to all the dignitaries who had come from the various islands. Everybody got some siapo, or bark cloth, and a tanoa. It was nice to see them use the tanoa as a symbol of who we are.”
—Sapina Pele

This information is excerpted from Chapter 3 of Pacific Voices: Keeping our Cultures Alive.