FINE MATS - IE-TONGA
 

The term "fine mat" is not an accurate English translation for the word Ie-Toga, the most valued possession of the royal families of Samoa. It fails to describe the true value of the sacred ceremonial robe as the Samoans see it. Ie-Toga is never used as a mat; it never was and it will never be. It is often said among the Europeans that a person can buy anything with money, and that is true in many cases. But the Samoans can buy several acres of land and save a condemned man with one Ie-Toga. Besides those, there are now among the royalties of Samoa very old Ie-o-le-Malo (government-approved robes) that can never be bought with money. The wealth of the chief is measured according to the number of Ie-Togas he has and the history attached to each robe in his collection. It is the most precious medium of exchange in Samoa according to the Samoans. Valuables belonging to kings and high chiefs while they were alive have been buried with them in their graves when they passed away, even if they were made of gold or diamonds, according to an ancient custom. The Ie-Toga has never been subjected to that treatment. Burying of Ie-Toga with the dead has never been permitted. 

 

                   

The Ie-Toga is woven by hand from cured leaves of the finest grade of the pandanus plant. The best weavers among the women are engaged in the tedious job of weaving one robe which takes them several years to complete. Originally the Ie-Toga (Tongan Cloth) was brought to Samoa by Fuka of Tonga. According to history the first Ie-Toga was woven for many years in Tonga by Fuka herself. Fuka was the younger sister of Tuitoga, the King of Tonga.
 

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She brought the robe from Tonga to Samoa to be presented to her older sister, Lautiovogia, who was then the Queen in Samoa to King Tuiatua. Fuka's gift was given to her Queen-sister during her visit to Samoa. In appreciation of the gift, King Tuiatua named the robe Ie-Toga in honour of the Royal Family of Tonga. Since that historical occasion hundreds of years ago, the name of the royal robe has never been changed.  
 
The women of Samoa immediately got together, and in groups they worked to copy the weaving of the precious gift. The honour of being the first and original group to weave the first robe in Samoa for the kings is now claimed by several different groups in the islands. There is also a difference in opinion as to which of things' royal robes was first ceremoniously named. Having no written history at the time, Fuka, the Princess of Tonga, arrived at opinions on the matter which may be taken for what they are worth. 
 
Manu'a claims that the first robe woven and named in Samoa was the Lau o le Teve ma le Masoa (Leaves of the Teve and Arrowroot Plants). Upolu claims that the first established group of weavers was in Fagaloa. The kings, they said, first recognized their Pipii ma le Eleele (Cling to Earth). Tutuila claims that the first one named in Samoa and accepted by the kings was woven by a group of women in the A'uma village, near Leone, and it was the same robe that was completed in Fagaitua by a woman by the name of Tauoloasii. The robe when finished was worn by the weaver when she jumped into a deep pool of water during a ceremony celebrating the great event. When the weaver came out of the water, the robe was said to be perfectly dry. Because of the miraculous event, the robe was officially given the name of Matu mai Vai (dry when out of the water). Savaii also insists on her claim that the first group of weavers was organized in Amoa, Faasaleleaga. They wove the first robe there, and the second one was credited to the weavers of Sala'ilua, in their own island.  
 
King Tuiatua, to whom the original Fala u Fuka (Mat of Fuka) from Tonga was presented in Lufilufi, claimed that his robe Faavae o le Atu Mauga o Atua (Base of the Atua Hills) was, without a question, the first one to be dedicated to the royalties of Samoa. King Malietoa had his robe named Lau Taamu Tafea (Drifting Leaf of the Taamu Plant).  It is said that when his son, Prince Laauli, came to see him when he was ill in bed, he brought with him a robe, in accordance with the ancient custom. It was for a tribute to his father, the King. Malietoa ordered that the robe be known as his official robe and it should be named in remembrance of the stormy day in which his son came to see him. Tuiaana (King of Aana) named his robe Fala Seesee o Tamalelagi (The Royal Mat of Tamalelagi).
 
 
In royal weddings and funerals it is necessary for everyone who takes part to know the names of the kings' royal robes. Awarding of the ceremonial robes is part of the set program. The chief councils all over Samoa protect the rights of the kings to these royal robes as well as the titles or names of the royal robes which belong to them exclusively. No false claims are allowed to pass unchecked or uncorrected. During the rituals, the whole dominion is alerted to warn the erring chief never to repeat the mistake. Usually such a chief is dealt with severely, punished and dismissed by his chief council. These original royal robes are still treasured by the royal families. They are also known as government-approved robes and valued so highly that money cannot buy them now.
 
Many new names and titles that are not known in history are attached to royal roles by some petty chiefs  purposely, to make them appear more valuable. But all members of the chief councils have always ruled to give credit where it is due, and will not be bribed for approval.
 
Orators are trained that it is an act of courtesy to stop over in any village during their travels, to attend and pay tribute in any inaugurations, wedding, funeral or any other function held in the village. If he attends any of these ceremonies, he is required to participate in it. In his formal speech the genealogy that connects the honoured with his ancestors or village is cited, as well as all the formal salutations and titles of the village or district it is his duty to honour. If royal robes are involved, he is expected to cite the true titles or names of the royal robes of the king or high chief concerned. Orators are expected to do honour to the ritual by their participation and their citing of the titles and hereditary rights of the honoured hosts. In the past, several orators have been caught in the act of working underhandedly to change the set social system of Samoa for their personal gain. Such violators were immediately corrected and suppressed. The chief councils are alerted to stop repeated errors that might establish new and illegal claims that would be hard to repudiate in the future.  An orator might be able to fool a few chiefs once, but it is impossible for him to be able to fool the chef council often. Contradicting opinions on the hereditary rights of the chiefs have caused several wars in the past. In some recorded cases, it was evidently the survival of the fittest. In rituals and village functions the visiting orators are usually rewarded with a large portion of the feast, and are often presented with one or more royal robes according to how they impressed the village in their formal ceremonial speeches. 
 
 
It is hard to convince strangers that the Ie-Toga plays the most important part in the lives of the Samoans. No hoarder of money was ever fonder of his gold than a Samoan of his Ie-Toga. No function or sacred ceremony is ever complete without a gift or display and exchange of the sacred royal robes. A life of a murderer was often saved when the culprit was wrapped in an Ie-Toga and presented by his family chief or village council to the offended family in an ifoga (submission). When the submission was declared accepted by the offended chief, the culprit was set at liberty once more, having been fully pardoned for life. The submission ceremony is considered as an act of surrender, and a true sign of repentance and a pleading for forgiveness. Although this act of asking forgiveness by means of submission is not yet declared illegal and is still being done, no chief council or family is allowed today to pardon for life anyone in the case of a murder or any other such serious crime. The established courts of justice act on such cases as prescribed by the law. A full pardon can be granted only by the governors when recommended by a parole board.  
 

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