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Vatia, Old

American Samoa


[photo]
Vatia Bay
Photograph by misternaxal posted to Flickr and used under the Creative Commons license

The archeological remains of Old Vatia on Tutuila Island in American Samoa contains a wealth of well-preserved archeological features which help interpret the history and prehistory of the Polynesian Samoans. The integrity of the surface features (and presumably subsurface features) at Old Vatia lead investigators of this site to believe that key issues in Tutuilan prehistoric and settlement will be brought to light, enriching the study of human occupation of Tutuila Island.

Tutuila is the principal island in American Samoa, the Samoan islands lie north of New Zealand. Believed to be inhabited as early as 1000 B.C., the Samoans, along with Fiji and Tonga, are thought to be the original islands from which later Polynesian migrations sprung, colonizing a vast amount of the Pacific from the Hawaiian Islands to New Zealand. The Polynesians themselves may have originated in Southeast Asia as recently as 3,000 years ago. According to the traditions as told by their ancestors, the Samoan islanders had contact that was sometimes hostile with Fijians and other Pacific Islanders, as island kingdoms fought for supremacy. Before the arrival of European explorers, Tutuila was politically connected to ' Upolu Island. In 1722, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen became the first European to arrive in these islands, but for most of the 18th century European influence was limited to trading. The Samoan islands, however, became competitive areas of interest between the United States, Germany, and the British Empire. In 1899 the possession of the Samoan islands was divided between Germany (Western Samoa) and the United States (Eastern Samoa). At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, New Zealand occupied Western Samoa and administered the islands until 1962, when these islands were declared the Independent State of Samoa. American Samoa became self governing on July 1, 1967.

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National Park of American Samoa
NPS Photograph, courtesy of National Park of American Samoa


The site known as Old Vatia is situated on Faiga Ridge above its namesake, the coastal village of Vatia within the National Park of American Samoa. Surrounded by secondary forest, the site was first rediscovered by William K. Kikuchi in 1963 but was not investigated or recorded until the East Tutuila Projects of the 1980s. The features over a large area were recorded in 1989, and in 2005 Frederic B. Pearl noted that in contrast to the broad hilltop of Lefutu, Old Vatia is a long linear site that rests on a narrow ridge. It is broken up by many culturally manufactured terraces. Texas A&M University Surveys identified and recorded 23 features at Old Vatia, including architectural foundations, terrace facing, and pavements.


[photo]
National Park of American Samoa
NPS Photograph, courtesy of National Park of American Samoa

Different house structures have been recorded belonging to the traditional Polynesian Samoans, including carpenter sheds (fale ta), canoe shed(afolau), cooking houses (fale umu), dwelling houses (fale o'o), the long guest house (fale afolau) and the round guest house (fale tele). It is possible to speculate which ethnographically known houses are likely to have produced the foundation styles noted at Old Vatia. The true archeological significance of these sites is that they provide us with the only known examples of preserved architectural remains of Tutuilan mountain villages. The remains represent a time period from 1300 AD to 1750 AD, about which little is known. The house platforms stand out dramatically against the natural landscape, as they are ringed with basalt boulders, and are raised on a slight earthen mound. The vegetation around the site is quite thick, and forest clearance is restricted in the National Park of American Samoa , where it is located. Possessing a number of square foundations with oval interiors, these examples are the best preserved of any local mountain village. The coral foundations of some structures are a very rare example of its kind. There are five basic types of features at Old Vatia: house platforms (foundation), terrace facing, rock alignment, work area, and one ceremonial platform. This site constitutes ample evidence for upland occupation, which is unique in the prehistoric and historic record of Tutuila. Situated on a series of terraces with steeply sloping sides, the linear site measures 370 meters in length and is in size approximately 7350 square meters. One foundation composed of coral slabs instead of ‘ili'ili (waterborne basalt and coral gravels) might have been a ceremonial center, possibly a spirit house or temple. The foundations tend to be oval, square, or oval within a rectangular border.

[photo]
National Park of American Samoa
NPS Photograph, courtesy of National Park of American Samoa


Samoan culture provides clues to pre-European contact life. Except for perhaps a few thousand individuals--nearly all inhabitants of American Samoa are indigenous Samoans of Polynesian ancestry. More than any other U.S. or Polynesians peoples Samoans are tradition-oriented and closely follow social customs and hierarchies from long before arrival of the first Europeans. This Samoan way—or faasamoa —is still deeply ingrained in American Samoa culture.

The most apparent character is the Samoan matai system of organization and philosophy. In general each village is made up of a group of aiga or extended families which include as many relatives as can be claimed. Each aiga is headed by a chief, or matai, who represents the family on all matters including the village council, or fono . Matais hold title to all assets of the aigas, or families, they represent and are responsible for law enforcement and punishment of infractions occurring in their villages.


[photo]
National Park of American Samoa
NPS Photograph, courtesy of National Park of American Samoa

The fono consists of the matais of all the aiga associated with the village. The highest chief of the matais of all the village aigas is the highest chief or the ali'i and heads the fono . Also, each village has a pulenu'u (somewhat like a police chief or mayor) and one or more talking chiefs, tulafale.

Old Vatia, AS-24-002, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 2, 2006.

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