Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cultural Exploration 32: Fala Mats

I love puns. I especially love mat puns. They’re so easy and they never get old. What do you call the dirty bum who’s always sitting on your front porch? Matt. My uncle Matt had a mat that said, “Hi. I’m Mat.” One of my favorite Christmas presents I've ever given was to my friend Lili. It was a small rug that had a frog sitting on a pond leaf. It was a lily mat. I tell you all this because there is a special place in my heart for Samoan mats.

The Samoan word for “mat” is fala. Falas are woven from dried palm leaves, and they tend to come in two varieties: fine mats and regular mats (Incidentally, I am of the “fine” variety. PUN!).

Regular mats are woven with inch-wide strips of dried palm leaves, and though they vary in size tend to be about 4 feet wide by about 8 feet long. They're extremely common as they are cheap to make and have many uses, which include sitting, for sleeping, for carpeting, etc.

Fine mats are woven with much thinner strips, and are used for more formal purposes. The taupo, the chief’s virginal daughter, wears dresses made from fine mats at occasions like ’ava ceremonies and fiafias. Fine mats are also commonly given as gifts at weddings and funerals.

They’re so common, in fact, that when you check-in for a flight to Samoa, there are almost always other people in line who are checking fine mats to be given as gifts to the married couple or the family of the deceased. And you know what you call it when they pack the mat for the flight? Weaving on a jet plane. PUN!

During training in the host village, it was common for me to come home and see palm leaves laid out in strips on my family’s front lawn drying out in the sun. Once the leaves have baked long enough, they’re rolled into small wheels, where they’re stored until it’s time to weave. My host mom Mele spends a lot of her day putting together mats. It’s a hobby similar to knitting or crocheting in The States.

At the beginning of every school year, new students must bring a broom and a regular mat as part of their tuition. I’m not clear on where these mats and brooms go. For a while the brooms were stored in a closet in the teacher’s lounge. I was told to take a few home with me, so I guess the teachers took them home?

During training, language teacher Onofia taught us the phrase Ua vela le fala, which means “the mat is cooked.” This is used when a meeting has gone long, and everyone’s been sitting on the mats so long the mats are baked.

What do you call a website with posts chronicling the flat and banal experiences of the fale floor? Mat’s Samoa Blog. PUN!

Tomorrow’s cultural exploration:

I hope you’re well. Pictures below.

Paul, Koa, and a bunch of others sleeping in on falas the day after New Year's, 2009.

Language Trainer Onofia cooking a fala at the reception after Group 81's Swearing In.


Barb Carusillo said...

Some of your comments were only two thirds of a pun. P...U...!

Timmi said...

Fine mats are also given on the birth of the first grandchild/grandson.