Fale Samoa and Europe’s extended boundaries: performing place and identity
Engels-Schwarzpaul, A.-Chr.; Refiti, A
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British, German and American traders, bureaucrats and military, rubbed shoulders in Apia, Samoa as the nineteenth century came to a close. Amongst them, they settled their imperial rivalries by contract in 1899: Western Samoans became German compatriots and were thus presented in 1901 at exhibitions in Frankfurt and Berlin. Thirteen years later, New Zealand (a member of the Commonwealth) took control of Samoa. Accordingly, a Samoan fale (house) was presented at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition in Wembley Park and, in 1940, at the Centennial Exhibition in Wellington. The fale exhibited in 2005 at the Tropical Islands Resort in Brandt (60km southeast of Berlin), next to five other indigenous houses from tropical regions shares some important features with its predecessors – despite obvious differences. The tension between local and global contexts and customs shaped conception, production and reception in all cases. There is a dynamic awareness of many encounters with Europeans in Samoa today; not only are German and English genealogical links recognisable in many surnames, but a good share of tourists come from Europe to enjoy what might be called regional nostalgia. Historical connections, however, seem all but forgotten in Europe – who would think of Samoa as lying within Europe’s extended boundaries? This forgetfulness might even explain some short-fallings in architectural theories of region, with their moral distinctions and oppositional schemes that would seem oddly out of place not only in Apia. If conceptual “Europe” still dominates the world (Dietze 2008), its provincialization decentralises origins of knowledge and responsibilities (Charkrabarty 2008). Jacob’s (1996) account, cited in the call for papers, certainly expands colonized peoples’ repertoire of available attitudes – yet it still remains reactive. Motivations, restrictions and desires find their way into colonial and postcolonial relationships of exchange from all sides, and they need to be given equal attention. Our paper explores some instances in which houses were exhibited within the European imperial region. In these exhibitions, architecture’s tectonic side was inserted into the scenographic – an increasingly common strategy today, as more and more of the exterior is interiorized in glassed-over immunizing islands (Sloterdijk 2005, 2009). This twist, we suggest, helps avoid regionalism’s (critical or not) focus on tectonic form and material and redirects attention to the processes and events that give rise to building. For instance, the dynamics spurring the use of iconic Samoan forms (decorative from a European perspective) raise different questions and suggest alternative concepts. If Critical Regionalism’s rejection of eclectically “acquired alien forms” reacts in some ways to a condition of missed or avoided encounters, we want to ask explicitly who was and is involved in the acquisition of these forms, and how. The paper draws on research conducted between 2006 and 2010 about the conception and production of the fale Samoa at Tropical Islands Resort. Archival research explored precedents of fale exhibited in colonial and postcolonial contexts; site visits, interviews and visual documentation explored the circumstances of contemporary projects. Our research suggests that migrating houses participate significantly in the performance of Pacific identities in the global leisure industries. They not only signify identities – they per/form them, often according to inconsistent or even conflicting sets of values. These practices, in Samoa or in the New Zealand or European diaspora, are deeply implicated in the tensions between the local and the global which a revived regionalism has to confront.