Performance Art


1  The Fa'aluma; Part I

2   The Fa'aluma: Part II

3   The Fa'aluma Part III

4   The Fa'aluma: Part IV

5.   A Bluesman in Apia

6    Princess: Queen of Rubbles

7   The Art of Fijian Dance



Samoa dances and songs tell stories. The chorus and their leader, the Fa'aluma, tease, taunt, embrace, respect, condemn and condone. Through actions, gestures, clapping (there are two kinds; pati and pou) body slapping, lyrics, beat and rhythm, a tale of journey, love, labor or spirit spells out.

The Fa'aluma is the respected, venerated village artist. He (often she) is composer, lyricist, choreographer, humorist, jester, keeper of the beat, master of expressive actions. Here in Part 1 four part harmonies coupled with musical background and actions define an age old art of Polynesian performance.

Fa'aluma is official representative, greeter of honored guests, challenger to opposing competitive choruses and in the most Polynesian of ways, teller of tales.
During the four parts of "The Samoan Fa'aluma" different individual styles define the range of expression, emotion, humor and teasing; so often the message in song.
The Fa'aluma possesses license. His lyrics and actions can be loving - or sarcastic; teasing or embracing.

At American Samoa's 2011 April 17th Flag Day celebration, four groups performed. This group is from the village of Failogo on the western end of Tutuila.
The first Fa'aluma performs sa sa, or rhythmic clapping. He is somewhat reserved, making sure his group is in time with the beat. He leads in a less pretentious manner, choosing to keep his group collected and very precise. In the back of the group, village elders observe the younger members. The second Fa'aluma comes to the front and tells story to his guests before him. Its a story of respect to the heavens, an expression of thanks for a safe journey and the glory of the day.

Watch his actions and interpret for yourself.


Civilizations are measured by the sophistication of their art. In Polynesia's four thousand year old culture, still intact today, music can be subtle, or brash, or soothing; but it is always devised, controlled, scripted and precise. Part 2 of the Fa'aluma series demonstrates these artistic qualities in full.

Here we see reserve and understatement in the role of the first Fa'aluma. Behind his low key on stage persona is a highly disciplined performance. Note, especially, the roll of the drum and its tonal nuances that cue actions and lyrics. That's the musical talent and work of the Fa'aluma. His subtle gestures cue each beat in barely noticeable acts, yet clearly spelled out to the performers. Especially, we see how he cues his voices, altos, sopranos and baritones with a deft arm movement. He leaves the performance solely to the group in the sa sa, turning over instead the duties of encouragement to a female member of the group. This variation in performance tells the audience that his work is done in practice; the players know their parts well.

The next group Fa'aluma speaks directly to the honored guests. His welcome presages a traditional repartee of exchange. In fact, the age old art of Samoan music is a back and forth competition of music talent. Two Fa'aluma's will banter and "throw the fire" onto his (or her) counterpart's side. Impromptu improvisation based on mock argument adds a layer of complexity and sophistication to the art.

By the end of Part 2, a new Fa'aluma leads the group. His aggressive style will eventually engage the audience; a story that will evolve in parts 3 and 4.


The Fa'aluma as court jester, provocateur, peacemaker, artist. Here in part 3 we see all of those roles acted out. The flamboyant opening sequences signal what seasoned guests will certainly know as the classic mock confrontation turned amiable reconciliation. During it all the performers stick to the routine never missing a beat; even when their leader struts and paces to the delight of his totally absorbed audience. Again timing is everything; from the fa'aluma's directions to his players to his orders for music and drum.

The fa'aluma greets his listeners on two sides of the performance space: Then steps aside to speak his mind about various and sundry items: food, the heavens, the day. This performance is a masterpiece of timing. He knows exactly the drum beats and actions and sets his choreography precisely to them.

Finally he departs the stage; runs. walks, trots past the guests and returns to the front of the group speaking a body language of mildly suggestive behavior. The jester rules supreme.

Just when we think he may have exhausted himself and he sits stage side, the Fa'aluma reminds us who is really in charge. Perfectly timed to the music and actions, he rises to close the number. Fa'aluma is in total control.

But his performance is far from over. Part 4 looks at the stunning conclusion and how Polynesian performing arts are not just entertainment but a bonding experience between host and guests.


Imagine two thousand years ago. Polynesian ocean sailing canoes rise above the horizon and enter your village's reef break. Strangers perhaps, but families related of course. We are all one Polynesian, indeed Austronesian, family.

Then, as today, in the course of unfolding ritualistic events, our village orator faces our visitors' orator. Genealogies, called "fa'alupega", are recited between the two orators. Chiefly titles, as recited in the fa'alupega, common to both sides, carry generational bonds. Links are established. Ties cemented.

The hosts prepare a welcoming event with dance, song and feast. The fa'aluma goes to work, quickly remembering the family ties, perhaps the danger and excitement of the voyage. His lyrics, actions and choreography reflect the ties and bonds established by the orators.

His work is meant to bring families, friends and strangers together in communal harmony; To dance with joy over a safe arrival, reunion and renewal.

Fa'aluma: Part 4 brings this joyous climax to resolute ending. Listen for the traditional chants and vocal outbursts. They signal exuberance. The honored guests erupt from their seats and join in the celebratory dance. Here we see one of the guests of honor, American Samoa Governor, Togiola Tulafono, come to the platform, embrace and gift the fa'aluma; a ritual of high respect. The most honored guest, Assistant United States Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs, Anthony Babauta is invited and escorted to the dance by the women chiefs, or matais, of the village.

The guests, only moments ago the attention of the fa'aluma's jest and taunts, are now fully engaged in the celebration. The exchange is complete. The hosts have extended their warmth and hospitality to their guests, recognizing their bravery, esteemed rank, chiefly status, special voyaging skills and familial ties.

The fa'aluma, having earned the honored guest's blessings, concludes the group's performance and departs the stage victorious. His artistry is recognized; his role in Samoan culture again defines performance art far beyond mere entertainment but as a deeply cultural bonding experience.

To learn more about Samoan culture listen to the educational podcasts. For a fictional, romanticized, imaginary Samoan cultural trip back into space and time, read and enjoy the short stories.


A Bluesman in Apia

I was waiting for a bus to visit the legendary home of the
adventure author, Robert Louis Stevenson -
and a guy offered me a ride for fr

There was a guitar case in the back of his beat up van and three cold bottles of beer on the dash. It was 9:00AM.
That's how great adventures begin. Treasure Island redux!

"Little Al" Laban learned his blues musicianship for twenty nine years in Long Beach, California.

Totally out of the blue, Al  broke out his guitar and harp and performed the John Mayall standard, "Why Worry" at the gate of  Robert
Louis Stevenson's home in the village of Vailima above Independent Samoa's capital city, Apia.

Isn't the pleasure of traveling finding the totally unexpected in a positively unexpected place?

Al sings;

Tell me why should I worry
All the world is crazed
We can take it, so I . .

So I go to the ocean
Give me time to think
No time for troubles
Give me one more drink

RLS would have approved



An era of good times ended in 2011 when the popular nite spot, Rubbles, closed its doors.
  Princess closed the show with her solo performance art. It was the kind of impromptu scene that unfolded at Rubbles for more than 20 years. Here, we have given the Princess video a 1920s sepia tone look.  This kind of performance is legend in American Samoa. This is, after all,  where Somerset Maugham wrote Rain in 1916. His heroine, Sadie Thompson, was the post Victorian woman who brandished a mind and morality of her own. Hollywood picked up the transitional theme between morals and modern life. Gloria Swanson starred in the silent movie version. Hollywood sirens of the 40's and 50's, Joan Crawford and Rita Hayworth sexed up the Sadie character and gave the Port of Pago Pago a sinful reputation we cherish to this day

Rita Hayworth                                            Joan Crawford                            

Gloria Swanson

The Art of Fijian Dance

Cinematographer and Auteur, American Samoa's Tulanga Whitcombe creates an inviting portrait of  Drue Slatter's traditional Fijian dance interpretation.

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