O feosofa'iga o le vā: Samoan Women Negotiating vā Relations in and Around an Art Centre in Rural Samoa
This thesis explores the narratives of three Samoan women and their vā praxis in the context of a recently created arts centre in Poutasi, a nu’u (village) on the southern coast of Upolu, Samoa. Adopting Wendt’s (1996) argument that the vā changes along with relationships and contexts, I examine how these women negotiate their vā fealoaloa’i (social space) as they collaborate in the newly created spaces of an indigenous micro-enterprise for woman at the centre of their rural village. The thesis canvases the forms of collaboration and social structure the women have created for themselves, as well as the disparities and challenges women face in Samoan rural society generally, as one of the most vulnerable populations. How do they negotiate new ways of operating, between an arts centre model and the fa’amatai system (translation)? How do they collectively teu le vā (nurture the vā), and how do women of lower hierarchical status challenge and redefine ‘designated’ identity structures? Which role does fa’amatai play in the facilitation of the centre? How do diasporic notions of the vā change the social spaces in the arts centre? Through Talanoa, interviews, participatory observation and visual documentation, the study identifies and analyses factors influencing the negotiations of vā fealoaloa’i (social spaces), differences between various notions of vā held by the participants, and their practices of negotiating their vā fa’asinomaga (identity) within the context of their village. Su’ifefiloi (Silipa 2008, Refiti 2015) provides a Samoan indigenous framework threading together the women’s multi-facetted narratives with the data, co-constructed in talanoa and obtained through participatory observation. Thus, the thesis also contributes to the discourse of indigenous research methods and the discussions of vā in Samoa and the New Zealand diaspora. The women’s experiences, practices and narratives show what vā can be in the customary practices, on the one hand, and in the context of a micro-enterprise, on the other. From my own understanding of diasporic and academic interpretations of the vā, I suggest themes by which these women negotiate new spaces, hierarchies and boundaries, to facilitate different hierarchical structures, specifically for their interactions at the arts centre.