Tāla'iga o le gafa o le vā: Storying the Ontology, Genealogy, and the Energetics of Vā: The Development of Samoan Worldview c.1000AD-1914

Tuagalu, I'uogafa
Refiti, Albert L
Billie, Lythberg
Engels-Schwarzpaul, Tina
Item type
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

The Samoan concept of vā is widely used in academic studies on Pacific peoples. The term vā is usually defined as “relationship, relations (between two things and people).” This thesis examines the ontological status of the Samoan notion of vā; and traces its development in Samoan history from c.1000AD-1914. This development culminates in the emergence of a 19th century Samoan worldview. The three research questions that drive this present study are: first, what is the ontological status of vā? Second, how is vā manifested in Samoan history and culture? And last, does an historical analysis of vā enable an articulation of a Samoan view of history? The thesis focusses on four features of Samoan storytelling and telling of history: gafa (genealogy), Tala (narrative), people and place.

In this study, Samoan history is divided into two broad time periods: The Gafa period (c1000AD-1722s), where the Samoan vā worldview is exemplified by gafa or genealogical way of looking at the world; and the colonial phase (1722-1915), where the gafa worldview, which had always been changing, transforms at an even faster rate primarily because of European contact and influence. Two methods of historiographical enquiry are employed:

  1. the ontology of the Samoan vā is examined via critical studies enquiry of philosophic and linguistic usages;
  2. secondly, an historical and ethnographic approach is employed to trace the transformations of vā through the documentary and artefactual record of two time periods in Samoan history.

Priority is given to nineteenth century Samoan language sources, when stories, myths, and legends were first collected primarily by Europeans from Samoan pundits commentators.

This study argues that the notion of field, ie, “a region in which a body experiences a force as the result of the presence of some other body or bodies” enhances our understanding of vā relations between people and things; and that objects in vā-fields are subject to vā-forces, i.e., factors that impel Samoan movement or behaviour. In tracing the changes in vā-fields ( the relations between people and things) and vā-forces (factors that led Samoan behaviour), one can get a Samoan understanding of their history.

Publisher's version
Rights statement