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Row as one! A history of the development and use of the Sāmoan fautasi

Hans K. Van Tilburg, David J. Herdrich, Michaela E. Howells, Va‘amua Henry Sesepasara, Telei‘ai Christian Ausage, Michael D. Coszalter

JPS, Vol 127, No 1 pg (111-136)


The racing of fautasi (30-metre, 45-seater, oared Sāmoan longboats) remains a central cultural competition that unifies contemporary American Samoa and the two Sāmoan states more generally. However, the fautasi’s emergence and transition into this role has been dismissed as a vestige of colonialism and has been understudied by scholars. This paper examines the origin, development and use of the Sāmoan fautasi with special reference to the taumualua (double-ended paddling canoes) and tulula (9-to -12-metre, 20-seater, oared boats) that preceded them. We describe these traditional Sāmoan boats and the popular racing events that have grown around them in the context of hybrid nautical design, Western colonialism and modern commercialisation. Previous descriptions of the development of fautasi in the anthropological literature are, in many cases, oversimplified. Rather than simply replacing the taumualua when Sāmoan warfare ended, we argue that, pinpointing their origin to 1895, fautasi were developed because of their superior speed, a clear benefit in numerous functions including use as war boats, cargo and passenger vessels and racing craft. Over a period of 127 years all of these functions, except the popular sport of fautasi racing, fell away due to government regulations and the adoption of motorised vessels. Despite these transitions, fautasi retain a strong cultural connection to Sāmoa’s maritime past with the annual fautasi races and represent the single largest cultural event in American Samoa.


Sāmoa, history, maritime vessels, fautasi ‘longboats’, taumualua ‘double-ended paddling canoes’, tulula ‘oared boats’, boat-racing

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